We sat on rickety chairs at a creaky table made of wooden pallets in a room decorated with ancient tools used to grind and mill the crops that would have grown around this Croatian tavern. A vintage sharpening wheel stone stood at the centre of the room with rusty axes and timber implements adorning the stone walls of the restaurant that used to be a stone mill. John and I finished our main courses and John stayed to listen to the band playing traditional music while I took a stroll outside. The music was getting too loud and I needed to distract myself from the thought that those heavy pieces equipment hanging on the walls might come crashing down. I inhaled a deep breath of late evening air and looked around for somewhere comfy to take a nap. As I hopped on to the low bench just outside the kitchen, I caught a glimpse of a dirty black and white kitten with hunger in its eyes. I made up my mind that this little guy was going to have some scraps and John asked the owner for some leftover meat. A few minutes later John appeared with a plate piled high and the leapt eagerly on to John’s knee. John dropped the food along the bottom of a dark wall and cats and kittens gradually emerged from the dark to enjoy the best dinner of their lives.
The restaurant was located in Cilipi, a village on the outskirts of the city of Dubrovnik in Southern Croatia where we stayed in a countryside villa not far from the airport. We soon got to know the local strays and we were grateful to people like the restaurant owner who do what they can to help. But overall there was a feeling of indifference towards the animals and people were surprised that we would walk down the long winding road away from the villa twice a day to feed the cats that we’d seen rummaging for leftovers in the rubbish bins. We applied ointment to their wounds and drops in their eyes to help heal their infections although sadly one or two were too afraid to let us near them and never got the treatment they needed. But not all stray cats have such difficult lives as we found out when we visited the riverside Konoba Vinica restaurant in the village of Monkovic. While we enjoyed lunch by the river Ljuta, a chunky ginger and white boy luxuriated in the sunny patches scattered throughout the vibrant green foliage, gratefully accepting titbits from patrons and words of kindness from the staff.
The old town of Dubrovnik was like a labyrinth of ancient stone walls leading us through a maze of narrow cobbled streets. The city was surrounded by a medieval stone rampart, fortifications that protected the settlement in times gone by and now acted as a roof-top walkway around the city’s core. John and I climbed the steps to the top of the wall where the parapets and bulwarks provided barricades and safe places from which to defend the fort. My chest puffed out as I strode purposefully along the brick path before stopping to admire the magnificent views across the Adriatic Sea. My daydreaming came to an end as the sun began to dip low into the skyline and John scooped me up into his arms. Dubrovnik was filled with the most beautiful landscapes I have seen and the people were generous and welcoming. My thoughts go out to the strays in the hope that as time goes by the authorities will embrace animal welfare as part of a civilised society and the kindness of strangers will continue to foster a culture of compassion towards all animals – human and non-human.