• Alex Gerlach

A Pedacito Of The Issue of Stray Cats Around the World

Travel has this amazing ability to show us not only how different the world is, but also how similar. Throughout my own experiences abroad, I find myself fascinated by the unique and subtle strings that tie us together. In honor of National Adopt a Cat Month, I want to talk about the universal treatment of the global stray cat problem.

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A stray cat in Oia, Santorini, Greece.

To start this off, I'd like to stress the significance of the stray cat problem and put it into a global context with a few statistics:

  • There are a total of 600,000,000 cats total worldwide. Out of this number, 480,00,000 are strays. That means only 3.67% of the population have homes.

  • Istanbul alone has over 125,000 free-roaming cats in the city.

  • Jerusalem has a population of over 240,000 stray cats.

  • Brazil has an island of feral cats called "Ihla dos Gatos" that has a population of about 750 cats.

  • According to the American Bird Conservancy, "Cats have contributed to the extinction of 63 species of birds, mammals, and reptiles in the wild." They are considered to be the biggest human-caused threat to wildlife.

The reality is, the number of stray cats around the world is endless and their threat to wildlife is becoming increasingly apparent as the problem persists. I've seen it myself during my travels to Italy and Greece. During each of my visits, the villages and communities I explored were full of stray cats.

One thing I loved about these communities was their treatment of strays. When I was in Minori, Italy along the Amalfi Coast, my friend and I came across two stray cats. They were extremely friendly, rolling around on the pavement and revealing their bellies, which is a sign of trust.


I was quick to kneel down and interact with them when I noticed the orange cat only had three legs. I was struck with a pang of sympathy and longing to wrap up the sweet thing and take it home with me. But I was relieved when I noticed the condition of the cat's stump. It looked like it had been taken care of by a vet and was fully healed.

Both times I went to Greece (I visited Crete and Santorini), I experienced villages and communities that collectively cared for their stray cat populations. One night in Santorini, we stopped at a restaurant along the shore for dinner and dined right alongside a mother and her litter of kittens.

Diners, including myself, offered food to them right from our tables, which they quickly devoured. They seemed to make a home in the restaurant and were easily accepted by the staff, who didn't miss a beat as the cats scurried around their feet. When we traveled north to Oia, the paved streets were alive with kittens and awe-ing tourists.


Like the cats at the restaurant, the shop owners and locals would leave food for them on ledges, windowsills, or in bowls on the ground. The cats are usually pretty friendly, but skittish, which is a typical trait for strays. But that didn't stop me from being the crazy person I am and picking up one of the cats. Which, if you can't tell from the image below, it did not like.

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Storyteller Alex bravely holding a stray cat.

The other time I traveled to Greece, I went to Crete in 2017. During our stay in a small hotel in Stalos, there was a very friendly stray cat that would hang around and bathe on the marble steps leading to our room. He would come up to our window every morning to greet us before we left to explore for the day.

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A stray cat at our hotel in Stalos, Crete, Greece.

What I love about the treatment of strays in places like these is that they are actually accepted as part of the community. While I wish that would encourage locals to take these cats in and prevent them from reproducing more, the reality is not everyone has the resources to care for an animal. In Greece, it's common to have to travel far distances just to find a vet.


But I also grew up seeing this in my own hometown. Spotting strays scurrying across the street at night was a common occurrence. In fact, I rescued one of my cats as a kitten from feral litter in my neighborhood.

Mina is, hands down, my best friend. Growing up, I'd always dreamed of having a black kitten, and then suddenly she came around my house. When I rescued her, she was a 5-month old skinny thing covered in fleas. It took her a while to warm up to me, but eventually, I was waking up in the middle of the night to her curled up on my neck.

Other than Mina, I have two other cats that come from similar circumstances. Kit, my tabby, was from a litter of kittens being given out for free in front of a Wal-Mart. The other cat, B, I rescued from a kill shelter. Based on what the shelter said, B was a pregnant stray they took in. Because the shelter was already over capacity, they actually had to abort her litter.

I'm pretty passionate about animals in general, but cats have a special place because of my experience owning them. After I rescued B, I actually got involved with a trap and release program (TRP) called Point Paws. While I wasn't old enough for most of the volunteer work, I did help out during adoption events and socialized with the cats.