Although stray cats are ubiquitous in Crete, it was in Paleochora that I first really noticed them. Walking along the rocky section of the beach on Easter Sunday there seemed to be an awful lot of cats just hanging out among the rocks. Watching them for a while, it became obvious that they weren't out for a day at the seaside, but the beach was their home. They were beach bum cats.
Some were quite hard to spot as their colours helped camouflage them against the rocks. They lay in the sun taking in the rays, scrabbling about for titbits amongst the flotsam and occasionally disappearing into hollows.
The following day, as I sat outside a bar on the main street sipping a coffee, I noticed a ginger cat waiting outside the fishmonger's opposite. It seemed quite confident of being served. Sure enough, the fishmonger's young son came out and offered the cat a snack. The fishmonger, realising what was going on, chased the cat and reprimanded his son. Moments later, a black and white cat appeared and behaved in exactly the same way as the previous ginger. The ritual was repeated: cat waited patiently; young boy came out and fed it; dad chased cat and told son off. I could have sat watching this all day.
The stray cats of Crete are well-known and seem to be tolerated in much the same way the birds are. Sometimes people feed them, other times they ignore them, but I didn't see anyone being cruel or getting annoyed at them. Even the fishmonger, who must have been pretty frustrated, wasn't horrible when he shooed them away.
From the numerous calendars, bags, tea towels and postcards I saw with pictures of Cretan cats adorning them, I supposed they're quite good for the tourist and retail industries and maybe this is why they are tolerated?
Of course, being strays they are not neutered, deloused, wormed or even fed regularly. Although they look cute, they have to deal with a much tougher world than our pet cats in the UK.
|Spot the cat|
Tourists, falling for their cuteness whilst on their summer holidays, will feed them, enabling the cats to become healthier, stronger and, consequently, more fertile. In the winter the tourists leave and the cats, along with their kittens, are left to fend for themselves. Many don't make it through the winter. A sad thought, but if they did all survive, especially at the rate cats breed, the towns would be over-run and the local government would, presumably, have to organise a cull. If the tourists didn't feed them in the summer, maybe they wouldn't be healthy enough to breed and this would be a natural way of keeping numbers down. Or maybe the cats would adapt to a year-round lean diet and breed anyway. It's not possible to know. But I do know that I enjoyed seeing them around and getting the chance to photograph them.