The Cycle of Life and Death

baby alpaca Pomino

The new baby alpaca, Pomino.

On the morning of May 17  a brown rabbit bolted from a group of trees and ran across my friend Judith’s foot before disappearing. The dogs were far away in the opposite direction, so it had nothing to do with them. I told her it was the first time I had ever seen a rabbit in almost ten years of living here, although I had seen about everything else, from porcupine to wild boar. Considering the circumstances, I knew it was some kind of sign. Judith and I returned from our walk to find one of my very pregnant alpacas had given birth while we were out. A quivering white woolly creature, all big eyes and endless wobbly legs was struggling to stand, surrounded by five curious alpacas in a scene that appeared almost biblical in its charm and timelessness.

A few hours later we were in Intensive Care at Arezzo hospital, a place I had got to know all too well over the previous 17 days. My husband Alan lay motionless in bed 10, hooked up to iv’s and tubes, so sedated that he didn’t even know we were there. The doctors had already warned me that they had lost the battle and that it was just a matter of time. I told him about the baby alpaca and the rabbit, chatted on about what we had been doing as usual. It was something I’d resolved to do even though he was unresponsive, talk to him as if he could hear and understand. I told him I’d see him later and kissed him goodbye. We drove back in silence, both trying to take in his dramatic deterioration. At home, surrounded by dogs we had a cup of tea, then checked the baby alpaca. The phone rang. It was the hospital asking us to go straight back. I was astounded by my calmness as my worst nightmare unfolded, I didn’t drive too fast, I didn’t cry. We rang the bell of the dramatically named ‘Reanimazione’ ward to be greeted by the motherly doctor who had been so kind to me. She took my hand. ‘I’m so sorry, Signora.’

On the drive home we both noticed one dead magpie lying by the side of the road – ‘one for sorrow.’ In the evening of that unforgettable day I looked up the symbolic meaning of the rabbit. One interpretation was ‘the cycle of life and death’.  I had had a feeling, a premonition which I barely wanted to acknowledge, that Alan would die on the day the alpaca was born and it had happened as I thought it would.

The second baby was born the next day, but the gods were determined that I should be tested even further. The mother had a retained placenta, which meant an emergency call to the vet, a life or death intervention. My diva Suri alpaca, the very definition of Miss High Maintenance, was struggling to breathe and in shock from the birth and the proximity of strangers and the inability to move or escape. The vet was very concerned, gave her an injection to help her breathe and stayed on to check that she wasn’t going to die. Fortunately, she didn’t, but I had to give her antibiotic injections for the next five days. The universe was determined I should be immersed in medical stuff for some reason.

And although I never wanted to see syringes, tubes, medicines or anything connected with illness ever again, I knew I had to face yet more. My elderly labrador ZsaZsa was diagnosed with leishmaniasis while Alan was in hospital. The treatment (not cure) is two daily injections of Glucantime for 30 days and three tablets of allopurinol daily for a year. I delayed doing anything while Alan was in Intensive Care, but I started the therapy a week ago, crossing off the days on a chart. I cried my eyes out as I gave her the first injection. ‘I don’t want to do this!’ But then I got a grip and it’s getting easier. It’s too early to say if it’s working or not, but I will keep you posted.

It has been a testing time and I’m not sure what it all means. But one thing I am sure about, despite the traumas and the dramas, I couldn’t have got through this without my animals. My friends – particularly the wonderful Judith –  and my family were there at the end, but the animals were there from the beginning, when I was on my own. They alpacas listened gently as I raged and screamed at the unfairness and the horror of it all, the dogs licked my tears away after yet another desperate visit to the hospital, tails wagging as they struggled to understand why they were being left alone for hours and why I was now sitting crying on the floor. They are what kept me going and they are keeping me going now.


More Italians Than Ever Truly Value Their Cats and Dogs

My cats and dogs in Italy

My dogs and cat – Zsazsa, Jimmy and the much-loved Maia

As someone who openly acknowledges my animals are child substitutes, it’s interesting to find out that I’m not alone!

Here in Italy, recent research carried out by AstraRicherche for leading Italian petfood company AgrasDelic has shown that a growing number of Italians consider their cat or dog not just a pet but more like a member of the family.

Sixty eight percent of Italians say they know someone who thinks their four-legged friend is as important as their child or even more so.

President of the petfood company Enrico Finzi says: ‘companion animals have a far greater level of interaction and emotional involvement in people’s daily lives than in the past… The animal gives the human affection and psychological support. It’s a relationship that many people these days grow to rely on and would find it hard to do without.’

There is also growing interest in the health and well-being of Italian cats and dogs, according to the research.

Forty eight percent of owners demand the same high standards of their pet’s food as they do of their own. ‘It’s a basic sign of affection. People want their cat or dog to experience the same happiness and satisfaction as they do from eating good food,’ explains Finzi. ‘At the same time the product must not harm the animal’s health but instead help maintain its psychological and physiological wellbeing.’

Clearly there’s a long way to go until all dogs and cats in Italy are treated with the love and respect they deserve. There are still too many in council pounds or treated badly and abandoned, as I know from all the people who contact me every year via this site having found a starving maltreated animal that no-one seems to be bothered about.

This research demonstrates an increasing level of affection, sensitivity and care towards pet animals in Italy and is a hugely positive sign. The more people who lead by example the better.

Petsitter Available in Italy in 2015

If you are like me, you never take holidays because of your animals. Well this may be the solution!

I have just had an email from a retired couple from Australia who are coming to Italy next year and are available for pet or housesitting. Here is the information:

“We plan to be in Italy Jun-Sep 2015 and would like to offer our services to mind pets/homes during that time. We are Australians and own a cattle farm with chickens and also operate a B&B. We know how to care and provide for guests and animals.We have enjoyed cats, dogs and birds as household pets and know how to care for small and large animals. In our area we help out when neighbours go on vacation by feeding and walking their pets.

 For our B&B, we have received great comments on trip adviser. Both of us are very active in the community and volunteer for various groups and can provide character references and police checks if required.”

Contact:  Margaret & Bruce Hansell


Loving Home Needed for Rudy the Rescue Dog

Every day it seems there are more poor dogs looking for homes. Every one of them deserves a chance and I hope that by putting their stories up here someone might see a photo and fall in love. I’ve done it myself, twice, and have never regretted it.

Rudy 3 005The adorable Rudy is in Calabria, and she was lucky enough to be rescued by a lovely lady called Judy.  It is virtually impossible to rehome dogs down there so the Internet is Rudy’s only chance. Judy writes: “Three months ago I rescued an abandoned dog who was being mistreated here, intending to get her back to health, spay her, and when she was healthy and cute again then find a home for her.  Her name is Rudy.  She is now about two years old, weighs 15 pounds.  She is black, mop-haired, smart, loving, good with children.  She is healthy, spayed, a happy little dog.  I have been unable to find a home for her.  The sindaco refuses to send her to the canile as he says I own her.  The canile will not accept her, even if I pay the monthly fee, without the sindaco’s approval.  I cannot just walk away from her in May. 

” She makes friends easily with other dogs as well as people; is best friends immediately unless the other dog or person indicates they don’t want to know her; then she just sits down, or trots away. I have English students who come to the home, and if they allow it she will lie under the table with her head on their sandals or shoes during the lesson. She loves to play — in the summer some of the summer visiting boys would come to the door to see if Rudy could play. When I go to sleep I am sleeping on my left side with my head on the pillow, and sometimes when I wake up Rudy is also sleeping on her left side with her head on the pillow. She hasn’t had much experience with cats, but when we are walking and she sees one she very much wants to chase it, so I don’t think cats would be a good fit.  “

Judy has to go back to the USA in May and is desperate to find a home for this gorgeous dog. She is currently in Camini, in Calabria, the second hill town up from the Ionian Sea.  The nearest town is Riace Superiore, also a hill town; the nearest seaside town is Caulonia, then Roccella, Siderno, etc.  They are about 1.5 hours from Reggio Calabria. Judy’s son-in-law would be willing to drive Rudy and  Judy  to the new owner if you are outside the area.


Phone Judy (English only) :  0964 733 060.  E-mail is:

For Italian speakers, Judy’s daughter is Sarah Cree, her husband is Franco Tassone, and their number is:  0964 733 056.

Home Needed for 5-Month-Old Border Collie X Pup

Border collie cross at Livorno

Can you give me a home?

We got our own lovely rescue dog Mana’ from this lady and now she is desperate to find a home for another beautiful young pup. Didi is five months old and a small to medium size female Border Collie cross. (Border Collies are number one in the rankings for most intelligent dogs in the world by the way.)

If you can give her a good home, even if you are not in the area, Livorno, then please get in touch as transport can be arranged.

Email Angela: