On a Sunday morning in the Zappeio Gardens, I would be walking along behind the Aegli restaurant and café, past the line of trash bins, and suddenly half a dozen cats, sometimes more, would come running to happily greet me.
In the four years that I was a volunteer feeder for Nine Lives, first at Zappeio and then in the National Gardens too, nothing, and I mean nothing, would bring me such joy as to see Billy, Benny, Brad, Bob, Bruce, Green Eyes, Tommy, and others in the past, welcome me and their daily meal with obvious gratitude. Now, as I move back to the US, my home country, it is this memory that will stay with me along with memories of all the other cats of the Gardens in whose lives I played a small part. I wonder if they know what a very large part they played in mine!
The life of a stray cat is not an easy one, even for the colonies of cats Nine Lives so lovingly cares for, neutering and feeding and trying to find them “forever” homes. There are the ever-present dangers from dogs, vehicles, and extremes of weather. It has always been hard on me to lose one of “our” cats because each one has his or her own “personality” and, after a long time feeding them, if only once a week, it is impossible not to become attached. Sweet, fat Fouskas; tailless, vocal Stumpy; playful, friendly Toumbitsa; elegant, soft Natalie; calm, stately Aristos; funny, trusting Toby; wary, mysterious Moonlight, and gorgeous, gregarious Nychta are only some of the cats I came to know who succumbed or disappeared while I was a feeder.
Then, there are others I miss but who left the Gardens happily because they found homes like Louis, Bambi, Bugsy, and Alejandro.
Of those who continue to live in the Gardens as I write this, I will always have a place in my heart for clever, scrappy Socksie who always found me before I found her; the “Three Musketeers”, tabbies who have adapted so well to changes in their environment such as felled trees and roaming dogs; Shiloh and Molly Sue who adore each other as much as they relish meals; Allegra who is so loving and “chirps” rather than meows; shy, sweet Patches; fluffy, sophisticated Dora; loud, large Thymari; silly, playful Teddy; homely, affectionate Horeftoulis, and all the others I haven’t space to mention by name.
The problem of homeless, unwanted cats in Athens is a huge one but Nine Lives does an amazing job of helping to keep the population in check through neutering and by caring for so many of these unfortunate creatures. Cats are beautiful, resilient, intelligent animals who reward us with their affection for very little effort on our part. I am grateful to Nine Lives for giving me the opportunity to help the cats of the National and Zappeio Gardens and, in doing so, to enrich my own life immeasurably.