I’ve been observing the companion animals and their owners here in Porto. Dogs are quite popular although there is no leash law (or if there is, no one pays attention to it). As a result you see dogs in the street, and I’m not sure if they are out for a stroll or are actually homeless. People don’t pick up after their dogs which is surprising and has made running a bit like an obstacle race. In rural areas the problem is dogs being chained. There is a petition being circulated to stop this practice but while that will help I think that it is about changing attitudes. I once went to a farm market in a rural area and was horrified to see a skeletal dog chained not 15 feet away from where everyone was parking for the market. I don’t know if this was so “normal” that no one noted it, but I still have flashbacks to that and wonder what I could have done to help that poor animal. Yet, here in the city, I see perfectly coiffed small dogs with little jackets, well-fed and obviously loved. I see dogs on the subway, dogs waiting outside of stores and banks for their owners; however, I do not see service dogs.
Porto is similar to Istanbul in its relationship with street cats. While they are not as celebrated as in Istanbul, there is a neutral to warm co-existence with them. As far as I can tell, they are not treated hatefully as they are in the United States: no one is sending posts with “come get these cats or I’m going to poison them”. I see feeding stations, including some with two levels and a view—what the Portuguese would call a T2 flat! But there are a lot of street cats in Porto, and that is the case because trap, neuter and release does not seem to be a common intervention for reducing the population. I see male cats with their parts intact and only a few cats with “ear tips” which indicate that they have been neutered. While this co-existence may work for now, as tourism increases and cats lose their spaces to flats and hotels, I can see this changing, and not for the better for cats.
I have a group of feral cats that I share with Senhor Gato. I don’t know his name, so this is my name for him. I guess his age to be about 70. Senhor G has an old dog, which I named “Gato-Cao” or cat dog. He looks like a mix of collie and corgi and has a wonky eye and lists to the right when he walks. Senhor G and GC walk together with GC about 10 steps behind and unleashed. Senhor G is always carrying two large plastic bags of food, one in each hand. One bag is filled with dry cat food and the other with leftover table food. The two of them make the daily rounds of feral communities: the community that I feed is clearly one of his favorites.
We “converse” although his accent is totally incomprehensible to me. The conversation sounds like “Os Gatos…(a stream of vowels and sounds) a few words that I recognize like “menina” or “comida” or “peixe” then he smiles from ear to ear. It is a nice moment between two people who communicate via a shared love of street cats. He fills their bowls with dry food and gives them some table food and then he he is off, GC listing behind him as they walk off to the next feeding station.
There is a regular gang of 4 with an occasional 5th. The first is “spokescat”.
This is a black neutered cat with a white patch on the chest. I call him/her spokescat because this cat kept nagging me as I walked past each day on my way to the University. “HELLOOOO…. Do you have any food in those bags by chance?” He (I assume it is a he) was the front-man for the community, and he is the reason that I started feeding them. From eating my food and Senhor Gato’s food he is getting a bit portly but that doesn’t stop him from nagging me anytime he sees me walking by his lair.
Then there is Blackie, who is, as you guessed, Black. Blackie is the most reserved and dignified of the group, not asking for food and not fond of human contact. He/she is the food snob of the group. If it is not tuna or fresh fish, then Blackie is not interested. Here he is waiting for better food.
Tortie-girl is a cheeky petite female (tortoise shell cats are always female). She waits for me and then runs to greet me. She likes to sniff my lunch box and will tolerate some petting. She will eat anything. She is probably the “cat most likely to be snuck into my luggage”.
Tiger is a striped orange and brown and black Tabby. I think Tiger was a house cat at one point because he/she is very friendly in a way that ferals are typically not. Tiger is also a food snob like Blackie, preferring fresh fish to cat food, but will eat the cat food if nothing better is forthcoming. Here is a photo of Tiger compromising by eating cat food.
Finally, a fifth cat joins the gang periodically. This is a very shy and feral brown tabby. I don’t know much about this cat since he/she generally hides and only eats if I put the food under the car. I have no photo of brown tabby.
I honestly will miss these guys when I return home, and also the duo of Senhor Gato and his dog. I know that that Senhor Gato will take care of them but over time I’ve come to learn their different personalities and I have a lot of fondness for them and their food quirks. But my two foodie cats await me at home, so I will leave them here, where they belong and where they will be taken care of by my friends.