RIGHT: Cats in Venice's former royal gardens. (The photo was taken in December, 2005.)
Not so many years ago, Venice wasn't just soaked by acqua alta floodwaters--it was also awash in cats. Stray cats, like pigeons, were a symbol of Venice, and--unlike their avian colleagues-the city's gatti were cherished by local citizens who often put out food for the cats and relied on them to keep rats under control.
Over the last two decades, however, Venetian Lagoon's feral-cat population has dropped from an estimated 12,000 to about 2,000, thanks to a city-supported program of sterilization and relocation by Dingo, a Venetian animal-protection organization. In 1989, Dingo opened a cat sanctuary on the island of San Clemente, the site of a former mental hospital. After the island was sold for redevelopment as the luxurious San Clemente Palace Hotel, Dingo moved its sanctuary (and the cats) to a new location at Malamocco, on the Lido, where it's still in operation.
For an illustrated look at Venetian felinity in its heyday, see our Cats in Venice article (which was written in 1997 but has been updated) and our tribute to Neno, who may have been Venice's Oldest Cat when he reached the ripe age of 22.