Lost cat / found cat

Lost in the maze of Renaissance Florence 15 years later

Sarah Crowe
June 26, 2019 - 14:13

When Pickles the Cat, a gorgeous fat, fluffy, ginger tabby bordering Maine Coon, was born in the closet of a rambling, old, colonial home of mad, bad and buzzy Johannesburg South Africa, little did he (or indeed we) know he would find himself lost in the maze of Renaissance Florence 15 years later. It was in taking flight on the wings of prayers to Catholic saints, Hindu gods and the kindness of a local living savior that, miraculously, he was found again.



Illustration by Leo Cardini



Seldom has history recorded a cat so much out in the wide, wild world—Johannesburg, Delhi, New York, Geneva and finally Florence—sucking on the marrow of his nine lives and more, as Pickles the Cat. So, what was it then that made him venture out on that bright Sunday morning from via di Mezzo to seek his pleasures beyond: the lure of those cooing doves on David’s magnificent, marbled shoulders maybe? Could it have been the fabled fish market at Sant’Ambrogio or a chance lick of the gelato on piazza dei Ciompi that whet his whiskers? Or perhaps it was simply the confusion of an old cat, losing his sight and fumbling through his new world.



Nonetheless, he was and is a beloved kitty, and so when there was no sign of him that Sunday morning, I panicked, called around the few local Florentines I knew, called my son and his wife in Paris to put together a poster in Google-translated-Italian “Gatto Smarrito” with pictures of Pickles, and Pickles and me (just in case someone who had seen me in the neighbourhood and then separately seen the cat). Then I posted it on Facebook’s “Lost and Found Cats and Dogs in Florence” (yes indeed, it does exist). Having just temporarily relocated from Geneva, no printer was on hand, so I sent out an alert for help and a dear colleague and friend I had worked with in India printed out a bunch, and off we traipsed.


For my part, brought up in an Irish Catholic household (in South Africa), I prayed to Saint Francis, patron saint of animals, and my son reminded me to add Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost things, as he never let my mother down whenever she lost anything (and that was regularly). My friend called on the powers of Aranyani, the Hindu goddess of forests and animals.



We split up, posting our posters in the local Carrefour, on street corners and in squares, when suddenly, as I was about to put up one of the “Gatto Smarrito” posters in piazza Sant’Ambrogio, another announcement caught my eye: “Gatta Trovata!” I could not believe my eyes, but a closer look at the colour photos of a ginger tabby, eyes glazed by the camera’s flash, unmistakably revealed Pickles the Cat. I called the number on the poster and spoke with the good lady, Anna, in broken Italian. She had found him wandering around piazza dei Ciompi early in the morning, thought the fat cat was a pregnant female, took him home, cleaned and fed him, and went to the trouble of taking photos and writing up a little story of how “she” seemed to be in good condition but a bit grubby. Off she went around the neighbourhood with her Found Cat posters at the same time as my friend and I were putting up the Lost Cat posters. I had visions of drone footage of the two of us with our placards bumping into each other on a corner. Whenever I tell this tale to foreigners living here, they tell me that that kindness is typical of Florentines. And it’s true, I have found it to be so.



Illux by Leo Cardini



For now, Pickles is happily ensconced in another part of the city, but sadly nearing the twilight of his years and losing his sight. He only ever tentatively dares to put a paw out on the terracotta terrace and shows scant interest in cooing doves and fleeting sparrows. His travelling days are probably over, but having clocked up more miles and lived in more cities than most humans, he seems as delighted as we are to call Florence home, at least til the next one.



The Facebook group “SOS Animali smarriti Firenze/Prato e provincia” has an 11,000-strong following and was set up by someone who lost (and never found) their cat in 2003.

more articles