March 21, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

Animal rules

Erica's Bella. Photo by Erica Firpo.
By Erica Firpo
Published: 2006-01-01

magine this: A clear sunny afternoon, Bella and I walking together in Villa Borghese, Parco Sempione, Campo Santa Maria in Formosa, along a foot path in Cinque Terre, up the Spaccanapoli or a little piazza in Fiesole. It doesn't matter where we are because we're off the leash. Yes, you read correctly. No leashes. Complete freedom for Bella who maintains a (maximum) one foot distance from me. Bella is new to Italy and slightly taken aback by the surroundings. Worse, she has no idea why "Che bella! Morde?" doesn't come complete with a handful of food.

It was easy to bring Bella here from California. I had up-to-date vaccinations in documented form and a nice note (in English) from my veterinarian saying she was hygienic and safe for travel. As most of us know, it is practically hassle-free to bring your pet into Italy, unlike the nitpicky UK where quarantines, cage dimensions and outrageous fees make you think seriously about smuggling. Rarely does customs ask to see your animal's papers (make sure you have them anyway) or demand that you uncage your pet for inspection. Bella's last exam was in November 2003 after a 10-hour flight in cargo. Unhappy dog, and soon after, unhappy customs officer.

Italy loves animals. Many restaurants, cafes, shops, offices, trains, churches and even butchers welcome animals with open arms. In three years, Bella has not missed her annual Oct. 4 Feast of St. Francis of Assisi blessing. However, there are places where animals are not permitted: Supermarkets, movie theatres, libraries, museums and most public offices, to name a few.

Use good judgment. "No-access" spots are usually obvious. If you are unsure, ask. Look around for "pet parking" signs by entrances. Not all historical sites are pet-friendly; some are biased towards certain species. The Roman Forum, for example, allows no pets at all. Villa Adriana, meanwhile, welcomes dogs on leashes. It's a mixed bag. Largo Argentina has a cat shelter. Santa Rosalia's Grotto in Palermo is animal friendly. Pompei is a home to homeless dogs. Most often, the answer to whether your pet can enter is "Certo!"

Okay, now that Fido and MeoMix are finally here, let's take care of basics. Find a veterinarian. It took me a year to discover one I like and trust. Not every vet does surgery or has an x-ray machine. Not all are open on Monday or Saturday. Here are three simple methods for finding a vet that suits your needs.

  • Visit your embassy or consulate web site and search travel, pets, or veterinarians. The British Embassy site is very helpful. Under Travel and Taking Pets into the UK is a list of several English-speaking veterinarians in Italy. These vets will be good "starter" vets. Soon you'll find a better one.

  • No one listed in your town? Plan B: Talk to your pet-owning neighbors. They can give you insight and interesting gossip. Usually, a neighbor will help you find the best local vet (good for the basics like a check-up or vaccination) and the best vet for an emergency like surgery (chirurgia) or x-rays (radiografia).

  • Cut to the chase. By far, the best method is to search for an ambulatorio veterinario in the Pagine Gialle, or Yellow Pages. By clicking company sheet (scheda aziendale) you'll see a long or short list of services — go with the ambulatorio who has the longest list. Your new vet should provide you with a free libretto, a small book where the standard yearly and semi-annual vaccinations are recorded and stamped. Provide your new vet with all non-Italian vaccination information and have them included in the libretto. You need to ask what Italian vaccinations your pet doesn't have. Don't assume anyone is going to tell you anything. Ensure you bring the libretto each time.

The biggest stress is not being about to communicate effectively, particularly in an emergency. The British Embassy website lists English-speaking doctors. If you find a practice through the Pagine Gialle, call and ask the receptionist if any doctors speak English. The larger the practice, the more likely the chances. Talk matters over with a potential vet before treatment. Worse case scenario: Bring your neighbor, boyfriend, colleague or cousin.

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