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  • Pet Appeal: The Difference Between How Italians and Americans Love Their Pets
    Find out how Italians treat their dogs, cats, fish, etc.
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    For the last week, my Italian husband Antonio and I have been staying with my sister at our home in Florida. My sister, who works with birds at Disney's Animal Kingdom, has two roommates and they live with a ring-neck dove, two dogs, and a cat. It's a zoo at home and at work for little sister. Observing my Italian husband with all the pets shows the difference between how Americans treat their domesticated animals and how Italians treat theirs.

    Both cultures have a devotion to pets - from goldfish to man's best friend. But they approach the loving animals in a completely different way. For starters, many Italians feed their pets whatever is leftover from their own meals. My husband's dog Oliver in Italy, for instance, used to eat the scraps from our steak and chicken dinners. He also munched on pasta and the like. Never a kibble touched his lips, in fact. My sister and her roommates, on the other hand, allow Antonio to give a couple of scraps as a treat to the dogs, but they try to keep them on a stricter all-dog-food diet. They say it's better for their digestive system and overall health.

    In the United States, when a dog runs away from home, it is cause for alarm. Our pets have tags with their names, phone numbers, addresses, and information about their vaccinations and vet. In Italy, pets often wander the streets and come home in the evening without any concern on the part of owners. Curbing your dog hasn't, until recently, been a concern for Italians. There was a time when you couldn't walk down the street in our native Ischia, an island of the coast of Naples, without stepping in a gift from someone's dog. Now, things are cleaner for the sake of tourism.

    One of our friends in Italy is more American about his treatment of his pets. He lets them wander about his house, come near us when we're eating, kisses his dogs, and lets them sleep in bed with him and his wife. These are very American because Americans treat their pets like children. We lavish them with gifts, dress them up, and snuggle with them as we would a baby. Italians, however, rarely let pets up on the furniture, let alone in their matrimonial beds.

    My husband Antonio's dog, in fact, stayed behind a gate except for when he needed to go outside to relieve himself. Every once in a while, family members would pet him or say hello but he mostly faded into the background. No one ever kissed the dog. And he certainly was not allowed near the table or any of our food until we handed it to him in a paper plate at the end of the day.

    Cousin Fausto in Italy keeps his dog mostly outside. He comes in to see us once in a while but the family tries to keep him limited to the kitchen, which is closed to the laundry room and outdoor patio where the dog lives. My mom would have cried before she let our dog stay outside in a cold room away from her for the night. While my husband loves to play with the cat and dogs in this Florida house, he is all for locking them up while we eat and refraining from getting licked or giving kisses.

    Basically, Italians, for the most part, still treat pets like pets. They might laugh at you when you tell them how you give your cat presents for Christmas and a cake on his birthday. Your cat is your son. Their cat is their cat.

    Di Meglio is the guide to Newlyweds for About.com.

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