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									This article is from April 2005 Denver Post. While we don’t have the ability to hyperlink to it any more, here is the full text which we thought you would enjoy: Paper: Denver Post, The (CO) Title: This trip's the cat's miao Date: April 3, 2005 Dog-lovers, take heed: This is a column all about cats - cats and Italy, two subjects close to my heart. And, if you too are passionate about these topics, read on. Friends of Roman Cats, a nonprofit San Francisco-based group dedicated to helping homeless and abandoned cats in Italy and the United States, has organized a "Cats and Culture" tour of Italy. And, with sandpapery, pink tongue in cheek, I've dubbed the tour Puss and the Boot. The 12-day tour Oct. 5-17 combines top Italian cultural sites with interesting cat sites, including cat sanctuaries where homeless felines live out whoknows-how-many of their remaining nine lives. Italy's history with cats goes way back - at least to the ninth century B.C., according to Friends of Roman Cats. Felines have been appreciated as companions and for their ability to keep down rodent populations. Italian law bans killing healthy stray cats (and dogs, for that matter). Feral and stray cats have the right to remain "free living"; they cannot be removed from the place they have chosen to live, even if that spot is in someone's back garden. And it is these habitats - at least some - the tour visits. The premiere tour last year attracted 14 people and was considered a great success (at least 12 people are needed). The tour spends three days in Venice (special Venetian cats were bred in the 13th century to go after rats that were carrying the black plague), then heads to Padua, Florence (three days), Bagno a Ripoli, Arezzo and Orvieto, winding up in Rome (two-plus days). The cost is $2,595 per person double occupancy, not including airfare to and from Italy, plus a $300tax-deductible donation to Friends of Roman Cats. Included are three-star hotels, daily breakfasts, some dinners, Englishspeaking guides, air-conditioned tour bus, round-trip transfers between

airports and hotels, a two-day ticket for the vaporetto (water bus)in Venice, and entrance fees to certain sites. One persistent small cat, Mugolina - the name means "little hummer" and refers to her purring noise - even was given a ticket to America last year after she decided to adopt two sisters on the tour who had seen her at a cat sanctuary in the Tuscan countryside. The feeling was mutual. The sisters couldn’t get Mugolina out of their minds and made arrangements for the adoption the next day when they reached Rome. A man from the sanctuary transported Mugolina by train from Florence to Rome, where the little hummer met up with her new owners. Susan Wheeler of San Francisco, a semi-retired interior decorator/designer, heads Friends of Roman Cats and will accompany the tour. She and her husband, a retired professor of European history, lived in Rome on several occasions and their daughter was born there. During their last stint, in 199899, Wheeler became involved with Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, which sits in the midst of the remains of four ancient Roman temples and cares for about 350 gatti. Wheeler confesses that she "used to be a dog person" and came into cats later in life. "Quite soon (after working at Torre Argentina) I was hooked," she says,” and started spending a good deal of time there, when I wasn't out exploring Rome. I fell in love with a number of the cats and brought a dear little Tabby named Kurt back to San Francisco." (If you're in the mood for a tear-jerker, go to the "In Memoriam" link at and read about her love affair with Fagiolino.) Kurt joined Shadow and Silvestro at the Wheeler household, where he lived for almost six years before dying last April of kidney failure. Debbie Brabo of Huntsville, Ala., was among those on the tour last year.” I do cat rescue in Huntsville," she says, "and also am of Italian heritage and have always wanted to travel to Italy. My boyfriend took me and we had a wonderful time. The cat sanctuaries were probably the biggest highlight for me. I loved seeing the dedication these volunteers have for their babies. We took a lot of notes for ideas for a future sheltering Huntsville that is a dream for our local rescue group." Also on the tour was Rosalee Szabo of San Francisco. "Although I had been to Italy several other times, the tour visited a number of places I had never seen and which proved to be fascinating," she says by e-mail. "The local guides were extremely knowledgeable. It was unusual and very touching to

get a glimpse into an aspect of Italian society that a tourist wouldn't usually see; visiting the cat shelters and talking to the volunteers who run them, as well as an English veterinarian who gives them a lot of help, showed us important differences between our culture and theirs." And, perhaps the kicker to her experience: "I have always been an animal lover, but I have owned dogs rather than cats. After returning from the tour have found that I am much more tuned into the cats that I see here at home." For more information, contact Wheeler at 415-334-8036 or For travel arrangements, call Roberta Collier at Avanti Travel, 530-223-9299. Read the tour brochure at (Collier's number is misprinted in the brochure). Ciao for now. Or, maybe I should say miao for now. Travel editor Mim Swartz can be reached at 303-820-1599 or

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