The view from Sicily Animal Support International Office

Why Sicily? By Dean Hart

OK, to answer this I will have to tell a little story! I have been working within the canine behaviour industry for a little over 22 years, now I spend my time writing doggy articles and small business support articles and within the practical application of animal rescue work, in addition to my behaviour consultations in the UK and Sicily. Those of you that may know me or have met me at one of my talks will know that I fully support little and large organisations. In the past few years, before supposedly semi-retiring (that’s another story) I have delivered seminars on behalf of animal rescue charities that try their utmost to rehome dogs, and yes, controversially some are bringing animals into the UK from Eastern Europe and other countries. Even though I fully support these charities I have raised the questions, as others have ‘Aren’t there enough dogs in the UK that need homes?’ ‘Should we be bringing in more dogs?’ It makes sense to question, but it is so difficult to implement change in some Eastern European and Mediterranean countries so the best hope for some of these amazing little animals, at the time they need it, and that is an important point, is to move them to a loving and caring home within the UK or their natural county if possible.

Back to why Sicily. In 2006 I joined a fund-raising group that were given the challenge to ‘climb’ to the peaks, (yes, not walk the usual tourist route), of three volcanoes in just four days, to raise much needed funds for new kennels at Dogs for the Disabled. These glorious and amazing volcanoes were Vesuvius, Stromboli and Etna. We made it, had an amazing time and managed to raise just over £48,000 This was my first experience of Sicily and surroundings and I loved it.

In 2011 my wife and I stayed on Gozo an Island just off Malta and we loved that too. So a few years later when we decided to change our lifestyle and move to warmer climates we looked at the idea of Gozo or Malta, especially given that my wife’s Dad was stationed there in the RAF and so her Mum and Dad lived there for many years, there seemed to be an invisible bond. However, we soon realised, unfortunately, these islands were beyond our budget. Sicily is just a short stretch away across the ocean, so we took some time off our stressful lifestyle and went to have a look.

That was it, after just a few days we thought this could be our new home. We went back for a second look in 2016. On this trip we spent most of our time feeding feral cats, finding out who could feed them when we weren’t there being the dedicated

‘Gatini men and women of Sicily’ and we spend time trying to establish who owned what dogs and where, as they were just loose, roaming the island - actually against Italian law! Sadly, in the four weeks that we stayed we came across six dead animals, 4 cats and 2 dogs. They all looked as though they had been run over and left, just like rabbits and other wildlife in the UK. We were obviously upset and saddened and at that time I felt an anger towards the Sicilians for their lack of compassion. We knew we would have to face this culture if we were to live in Sicily, but I also knew there were people that cared about animals on the Island too. Having said this just last week somebody in the UK had laced some raw meat with nails in the New Forest, so in some ways the UK is not so different. 

 I had been in contact with one of the Universities in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, and had found a Professor that was interested in helping to support a rehoming programme for the many bats that we also saw being evacuated from their homes through construction, the renovation of rural homes and the development of wind farms. Later in 2017 I was invited to join a field trip monitoring bat activity.

By this time my wife and I were hooked on this stunning island full of different cultural backgrounds and activities, everybody we had met, expats and Sicillians are very friendful and helpful. BUT and this is a big but there is a lack of animal welfare and understanding of animals needs. Somebody told me to ‘harden up’ as we were trying to take in some needy kittens, my response was ‘No we don’t need to’, I understand that for hundreds of years animal interaction has been this way, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t help others and through our own actions try make change. 

Even if what we do is a ‘drop in the ocean’, for every single animal we help and every person we try to get to think differently about animal welfare and care , then that is a win for us. 

So Sicily it is, and so far we are winning a little every day.