The Stray Dogs of Sicily

As I first learned long ago, stray animals are a common sight in many parts of the globe, particularly the third world. I'll never forget when I was witness to a pack of peaceful dogs sauntering by the Greek ruins at sunset when I was in Paestum four years ago.  Nonetheless, I was quite surprised to see so many stray dogs, or cani randagi, during my most recent stay in Sicily, especially in Palermo.  They were everywhere.  Most often solo, sometimes in twos, and rarely in packs.  A self-proclaimed fearer of dogs, I never felt in any danger.  It was always a spectacle.  While some landowners do the unthinkable and poison the dogs with bait, many Palermitans treat them as part of their community.  From Trapani to Palermo, it's not uncommon to see a random water dish on a sidewalk corner.  In Rome you have the gattare, in Palermo, there are the dog ladies.  
After some research, I was sad to find that dog (and cat) abandonment is a significant problem in the south, and there have even been some deadly attacks.  Apparently more often than not, local governments ignore the laws requiring them to capture and kennel the strays.  
Italian author, Diana Lanciotti, wrote a book on this issue.  I wish there was an English translation!  While there have been national campaigns to end pet abandonment, sadly it remains a problem.
This was my favorite encounter.  This adorable stray was taking an afternoon swim in Trapani- hey dogs get hot too!  We later saw the same dog walking the main boulevard with a sense of determination and purpose during the evening passeggiata.  What have been your experiences with strays (dogs or cats) in Italy?  I'd love to hear your take.


  1. I was in Sicily recently, at Castellamare del Golfo.

    I was struck by the number of stray cats (we counted just under twenty one evening down by the harbour) and there were stray dogs in virtually every town we visited.

    We were followed around town by one of the most beautiful strays I've ever seen, and I was sorely tempted to investigate how to bring a stray home to the UK!

    Every time we went to a different town there were different dogs. Some terriers, some hounds. What always struck me was how incredibly well-behaved they all were. There was no aggression, no begging, no barking. They were all such incredibly polite animals.

  2. Hi Susanne- thanks for your comment! I went to Castellamare del Golfo last summer- I loved the beach there. Yes- the stray dogs were everywhere and all were extremely peaceful and polite (and I am terrified of dogs) although I guess there have been a few unfortunate attacks on people. My guess is that the kind Sicilians have a role in the behavior of these dogs. They feed them and take care of them even though they are on the street. You should look into adopting one if possible. Hope you enjoyed Sicily- it's one of my favorite places in the world!

  3. It is May 25, 2013, and we are finishing our Sicilian holiday. Has been really good, but the stray dogs and cats break my heart! Being cat lovers, we started buying cat food 2 weeks ago to feed any cats that we see.

    Anyhow, the other day I saw a poor hungry stray dog. I only had bread and cat food. He ate what I had because was sooooooo hungry. A total IDIOT didn't like this dog sitting in front of his car and started kicking him! I totally flipped out and began yelling and cursing at this jerk! I hope not all Sicilians think so negatively of these poor animals..I'm still really angry about this incident.

    Just wanted to share this story.

    Becky from Alberta, Canada

    1. Hi Becky- thank you for your comment and story. It is very sad to hear about the kicking incident but I am glad that you were able to help out some hungry cats and dogs. Unfortunately there are some crummy people everywhere, but I know that many Sicilians leave out water dishes, food, and keep an eye on these "street dogs." Hope you enjoyed the island!

    2. Thanks Munya!

      From your perspective, do you think that Sicily will eventually be more like North America where we have organizations, in most cities, to help stray pets?


    3. I am from N.Ireland and have been living in Sicily for a year now. I am concerned about the stray dog situation here and do not understand the mentalities of the locals. I find it horrific that they do not seem to care and see these poor animals as dirt. It is in fact due to human error that this problem exists.I have myself rescued one dog and feed others on the street but would like to do more and am considering contacting the local authority, however I doubt that I will achieve anything by doing so....

    4. Hi Katie: It has been awhile since I looked at this post. Yes. Not only do some of these people see dogs as dirt, but cats, too. When we were in Sicily in May, I was feeding a stray cat, and a local woman gave me a dirty look. I commend you for rescuing a dog and feeding others on the street.

  4. Hi Becky,

    That's a great question- I can only hope that more organizations will be set up in order to help stray animals. This website describes an animal shelter in Marsala, Sicily- http://www.animalliberationfront.com/ALFront/Actions-Italy/marsala.pdf

    Hope that helps!

  5. Here is a very touching story about a stray dog caretaker in Puglia- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/20/ciccio-the-dog-attends-ma_n_2511351.html

  6. Does anyone know how to fly back to England with a dog? I'm currently living in sicily, but would like to take my adopted stray on holiday with me.