Caveat Canem!

Years ago my husband and I brought home a three week-old pup who was destined to be left in a skip, that then being the standard way of disposing of unwanted mongrels (meticci – or more commonly – bastardini) .

Ed grew into a small, handsome, fox-like pooch. His face retained the soft contours of a puppy and his tail was like the plume on Cyrano’s hat. When we would go out walking in those early days, the tourists who roam the streets of Verona would ask to pet him. The Japanese even tended to take his picture. Italian mothers, on the other hand, would pull their children away roughly and hiss in their ears: “Dogs are dirty!” Italians are maniacal about hygiene – they spend more on cleaning products than any country in Europe. I well remember crouching to pick up Ed’s stools in a plastic bag and having astonished Italians stop to watch me: “Brava,” they would say, quickly adding “You’re not Italian, are you? An Italian would never do that.”

Every summer, when vacation time rolled round, it was common for some Italians to leave the family dog by the side of the road to fend for him or herself while they went off for a little fun in the sun. This was such a common phenomenon that a series of Public Service announcements were broadcast on television showing a pup wandering beside a highway with the message: He’s not the bastardino.

Italians’ views on dogs changed in 1998, the year Il Commissario Rex first appeared on Italian television. This Austrian production depicting the adventures of Police Dog Rex and his human partners became the most popular show on TV, averaging a 30% viewer share. Rex, a splendid German Shepherd, started appearing as a Special Guest on variety shows and features on the exploits of brave family pets started popping up on the news. In the last year or two bastardini have overtaken status symbol breeds in terms of popularity. I knew it for certain when a perfectly coiffed and immaculately dressed Veronese matron with a fluffy ragamuffin on a snazzy leather lead stopped to chat with me and Ed and proudly said: “Yes, Mitzi is a bastardino, too. They’re so much more intelligent and affectionate than cani di razza!”

This complete change in cultural attitudes took place within the short lifetime of Ed (3 September 1993 – 17 December, 2005). Italy is an even nicer place to live now that dogs are accepted as members of the family and not just as guard dogs, hunters, truffle hounds or fashion accessories.

I would strongly advise dog-loving newcomers to Italy to go to the local pound and pick out a canine companion. If you already have a dog, all he or she needs to accompany you on your move to Italy is a rabies shot and an up-to-date International Dog Passport. With a dog, every walk becomes a chance to meet people and establish firmer ties with your neighborhood. A dog also pulls you out of the First Person Singular (I am… I have… I want… ), the prison of many Beginner Language Students. Instead you will be in the much more sociable Second and Third Person. Si chiama Stanley. L’abbiamo preso al canile. é dolcissimo! That’s a pretty good description of our new dog Stanley.