I would hate to be so presumptuous as to try to stop people doing what they have always done just because my suburban mentality finds it a little difficult to understand. The sight of men in camouflage gear, stalking around the woods with shotguns between the beginning of November and the end of January can be disconcerting, but their ready smiles and handsome companion dogs are reassuring signs of responsibility and a certain degree of humanity.
I have always tried to maintain this opinion.
But last week one of our cats, Melvin, disappeared. He isn't the sort of cat to go wandering, in fact he has spent the majority of his life applying for the position of 'house cat' - often found harmlessly chasing the sun patches in various places inside, rather than relentlessly and mercilessly chasing lizards like the others. His disappearance was, therefore, a bit of a mystery, especially as he is a big boy, unlikely to have succumbed to a fox or a pine-martin. The children and the grown-ups were, understandably, becoming more upset as each day passed.
Then, the other night, he reappeared after four long days away. He seemed ok at first; just a little hungry, tired and glad to be home. But a closer inspection betrayed a problem around his eyes and we took him to the vets. Tests showed that he had been shot by a hunter, and the shotgun pellets had lodged around his face and into his side, but one had pierced the centre of his left eye and he will, almost certainly, lose that eye.As with most animals he seems to be able to just get on with it despite all the serious medication he now has to take but I, on the other hand, find the whole thing very infuriating. To accept that grown men, desperate to kill something illegally before the hunting season starts, would be firing off shotguns at anything that moves in the woods, makes me very cross.
Our vain attempts at calling him the ''pirate cat' to the girls have fallen on sullen and deaf ears and the fact that he is probably lucky to be still alive is scant consolation.
So, despite our efforts at a perpetual optimistic blog about our new life here in the Italian countryside, there are some things it is hard to be cheery about and poor old Melvin is resigned to his fate as the new house cat; big, bolshy and now blinkered, but bravely unbowed.
He may, one day, think he's got a good deal out of it all, but I don't think I'll be waving so enthusiastically at the hunters come November.