Even the Finality of the Grave Fails to Diminish Toldo's Abiding Love and Devotion to His Long Dead Guardian
"Love can touch us one time and last for a lifetime
And never let go till we're gone.
Love was when I loved you, one true time to hold on to
In my life we'll always go on."
-- Will Jennings
In the small town of Montagnana in the province of Padova a three-year-old gray and white cat named Toldo is quietly going about disproving the often voiced opinion that members of his species are soulless, uncaring creatures whose only interest in their caretakers consists of what they can get out of them. He is doing this by continuing to visit the grave of his caretaker, Renzo Iozzelli, who died on September 22, 2011 at the relatively young age of seventy-one.
On these occasions he also brings along with him little tokens of affection that he deposits on the grave. Although these gifts consist primarily of sticks, leaves, twigs, plastic cups, and paper towels, that in no way diminishes either their value or the considerable amount of thought and effort that goes into their procurement and delivery.
Toldo's trips began the day of his owner's funeral when he dutifully followed the coffin as it made its journey from his house to the graveyard. Iozzelli's widow, Ada, immediately suspected that something out of the ordinary was occurring when she visited the grave the following morning and found a sprig of acacia lying on top of it. Her daughter, however, dismissed that notion as nonsense.
"Andammo al cimitero con mia figlia e trovammo sulla tomba un rametto di acacia," Ada told the Corriere Fiorentino of Firenze on December 28th. (See "Gatto visita tomba del padrone, ogni giorno con un piccolo dono.") "Io pensai subito che fosse stato il gatto, ma mia figlia era convinta che lo dicessi solo per lo stato emotivo in cui mi trovavo in quei momenti."
Ada's intuition soon was proven to be correct when her son-in-law visited the grave later that night and found Toldo standing guard over it. After that it did not take long for word of his devotion to Iozelli to spread far and wide.
"Sometimes he comes with me and sometimes he goes on his own," Ada told the Independent Online of South Africa on January 4th. (See "Cat Brings Gifts to Master's Tomb.") "The whole town knows about him now."
Not only Montagnana's ninety-five-hundred inhabitants but all of Italy as well following the intervention of both the electronic and print media. Later, the story went viral on the Internet and thus transformed Toldo into an overnight international celebrity.
Even when she occasionally loses track of his peramublations her neighbors gladly fill in the gaps for her. "Anche oggi sono andata al camposante e Toldo mi è venuto dietro," she told the Corriere Fiorentino. "Per strada una persona che conosco mi ha detto che stamani, di buon' ora, il gatto era già stato lì."
Winning the affection of a cat is really not all that different from anything else in life in that the rewards to be derived from such an undertaking are commensurate with the amount of time, effort, and care that go into it. In Iozelli's case, not only did he rescue Toldo from a colony when he was only three months old but afterwards he took especially good care of him.
"Mio marito era molto affettuoso con lui. Renzo amava gli animali," Ada told the Corriere Fiorentino in the article cited supra. "È quasi come se Toldo volesse essergli riconoscente. È un gatto speciale, non si può che volergli bene."
That is not quite true in that there are cat-haters in Italy just as there are everywhere else as well. "There are insensitive people who send him away with stones or other things, convinced that the presence of an animal in the cemetery is almost a desecration," Ada conceded to the Huffington Post on January 4th. (See "Loyal Italian Cat, Toldo, Brings Gifts to Owner's Grave.")
Such patently ailurophobic behavior is on a par with ongoing efforts in Rome to evict a managed TNR colony of two-hundred-fifty felines from their longtime home in the ruins of Largo Argentina where Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. "How is it possible that these cat lovers were able to construct their refuge on an ancient monument?" Andrea Carandini, a past president of the National Cultural Heritage Council, asked indignantly in The Telegraph on November 3rd. (See "Stray Cat Colony in Ancient Roman Temple Is Declared a Health Hazard.")
The good news is that Toldo, as far as it could be determined, has not been injured by any of these unprovoked and totally uncalled for attacks. Nevertheless, it is incumbent take caretakers at the cemetery, the local authorities, and animal protection groups in the area take immediate steps in order to ensure his safety by arresting those responsible for these reprehensible attacks.
There also exists the remote possibility that he could be kidnapped and eaten. For example, Blick of Zurich reported on February 8th of last year that Italians consume thousands of cats each year despite that revolting practice being illegal. (See "Buon appetito! Italiener essen jedes Jahr siebentausend Katzen.")
Back in 2010, noted chef Beppe Bigazzi of the popular "La Prova del Cuoco" show on state-owned RAI-Uno TV extolled the pleasures of eating cats. "Leave it (a dead cat) for three days under a stream of running water (to tenderize the meat) and you end up with a delight," he was quoted in the February 16, 2010 edition of The Telegraph as proclaiming. (See "Cat Meat Menu Unleashes Italian Outrage.") "I've eaten its delicious white meat many times."
Although Bigazzi ultimately was suspended by the station for his outrageous remarks, the practice apparently is fairly widespread. "It was a custom (to eat cat) all over Italy," he told CNN on February 24, 2010. (See "TV Chef Dropped for Cat Recipe Comments.")
The issue of Toldo's safety is temporarily is abeyance because all the trips to the cemetery coupled with the inclement weather have taken their toll on him. "He's not going out as much these days," Ada told the Independent Online in the article cited supra. "He's caught a bit of bronchitis so he's sleeping next to me."
Perhaps by the time that he has recovered he will have realized that Iozelli is not coming back and accordingly will remain at home. That not only would be better for his mental health but it also would put an end to the savage assaults being directed against him.
|Tommy Attends Church Services|
"He loved my husband. It was something else!" Ada added to the Independent Online. "Now it's just me, my daughter and my son-in-law and he's very affectionate with us too."
Indeed as Charles Dickens once opined, "What greater gift than the love of a cat?" That alone makes it all the more imperative that Ada and her family take especially good care of Toldo. Renzo would not expect anything less of them.
Dogs likewise have been known to exhibit similar unstinting loyalties to their departed owners. Take, for example, the case of a seven-year-old Alsatian named Tommy who is still attending mass every day just like he did with his owner, fifty-seven-year-old Maria Margherita Lochi, before she passed away back in November.
"He's there every time I celebrate mass and is very well-behaved. He doesn't make a sound," Father Donate Panna of Santa Maria Assunta Catholic Church in San Donaci in the province of Brindisi on the southeast coast of Italy told Opposing Views of Los Angeles on February 13th. (See "Loyal Dog in Italy Attends Mass Daily Since Owner, Maria Lochi, Died.") "He's still coming to mass even after Maria's funeral (where) he waits patiently by the side of the altar and just sits there quietly."
Unlike the hostile reception that Toldo sometimes receives whenever he visits Iozelli's grave, parishioners at Santa Maria Assunta so far have not complained about Tommy stopping by on his own and Panna, a dog lover himself, accordingly tolerates his presence. "I didn't have the heart to throw him out," he told Opposing Views. "I've just recently lost my own dog, so I leave him there until mass finishes and then I let him out."
There is some confusion, however, surrounding Tommy's current living arrangement. Whereas some press reports maintain that he along with Lochi's two other dogs have found new homes, other dispatches claim that he is being cared for collectively by villagers in the agricultural town of seven-thousand souls.
"Ho da poco perduto il mio cane investito da un' auto e qualche giorno fa mentre ero a passeggio con mia moglie mi sono imbattuto in Tommy, abbiamo pensato subito di adottarlo," mayor Domenico Serio told La Repubblica of Bari on Janaury 15th. (See "Il cane che torna e aspetta ai piedi dell' altare ogni giorno in chiesa piange la sua padrona.") "Quand lo abbiamo chiamato ci ha allungato la zampa, famigliare, ci siamo diretti verso casa e lungo il percorso gli si sono avvicinati il venditore di panini, il macellaio, ed altri. Mi sono insomma accorto che la gente dell' intero paese lo aveno già adottato, e non ho avuto cuore di strapparlo alla comunità. I bambini gli hanno anche trovato un posto dove dormire: Tommyè insomma il cane di tutti."
Considering that Lochi originally rescued him from a field, the very last thing that he needs in his time of bereavement is to be abandoned again to his own devices. It also is vitally important that his trips to church do not subject him to predation by motorists as was the case with Serio's dog.
An even more astounding story of a dog's devotion to his deceased owner has been circulating in Villa Carlos Paz, a medium-sized town of fifty-six-thousand inhabitants in the province of Córdoba in central Argentina. It concerns a dog named Capitán who allegedly has been standing guard over the grave of his dead owner for the past six years.
|Capitán Visits Guzman's Grave|
This love affair which has transcended the grave began in 2005 when Miguel Guzman purchased him as a present for his son, Damían. He later passed away in March of 2006 but Capitán somehow found his way to his grave in January of 2007 and since then has rarely left it.
"He turned up here one day, all on his own, and started wandering all around the cemetery until he eventually found the tomb of his master," cemetery director Hector Baccega told Opposing Views on September 18th. (See "Dog Loyally Guards Master's Grave for Six Years, Family Says.") "During the day he sometimes has a walk around the cemetery, but always rushes back to the grave. And every day, at six o'clock sharp, he lies down on top of the grave and stays there all night."
Local veterinarian Guillermo Bur attributes Capitán's discovery of Guzman's grave to his species' renowned sense of smell. "El perro lo rastréo, lo buscó día tras día," he theorized to La Voz of Córdoba on September 13th. (See "El fiel Capitán habría Ilegado siguiendo el rastro.") "El perro piensa que el hombre está ahí y se queda. El víinculo que existe hace que lo espere."
In spite of all of that, his family has attempted on many occasions to coax him into staying at home. "I've tried to bring Capitán home several times, but he always comes straight back to the cemetery," Damían told Opposing Views in the September 18th article cited supra. "I think he's going to be there until he dies too. He's looking after my dad."
On that point Guzman's widow, Verónica, is in complete accord. "I don't think he wanted to leave Miguel on his own at night," she said of the failed attempts to get Capitán to sleep at home.
Fortunately for him, Baccega and his staff have taken over his care by feeding and watering him. Capitán's exemplary loyalty additionally has put Villa Carlos Paz on the map and led to an increase in tourism.
"Los autoridades de Turismo le tendrían que dar un premio al perro por la publicidad que le está haciendo de la ciudad," an unidentified woman visiting the cemetery remarked to La Voz in the article cited supra.
Deceased owners are not the only recipients of such exemplary canine devotion in that such sentiments are sometimes extended to other animals as well. For example, in the home of Robert and Mavis Bell in the borough of Wigan in Manchester, an eighteen-month-old Lancaster Heeler named Oscar developed an especially close relationship with a white-colored cat named Arthur.
Not surprisingly, when Arthur died in late 2007 Oscar had a very difficult time accepting the cold, hard reality that he was gone for good. As a consequence, he retrieved Arthur's lifeless corpse from the garden where it had been buried and spent the rest of the night licking the sod from it.
|Oscar and Arthur in Happier Times|
"He managed to climb out through the cat flap in the night, obviously with the intent to get Arthur back," Robert later explained. "Then he pulled him into the basket and went to sleep next to him."
Bell thus was forced to reinter Arthur's corpse in a secure grave and to procure a kitten named Limpet in order to keep Oscar company. (See Cat Defender post of January 18, 2008 entitled "Heartbroken Lancaster Heeler Named Oscar Digs Up and Retrieves the Corpse of His Feline Playmate, Arthur.")
The extraordinary loyalty exhibited by Toldo, Tommy, and Capitán to their owners as well as the love that Oscar had for Arthur demonstrates that the transformative power of love is by no means confined to humans. John Lennon may have slightly overstated the case with his song "All You Need Is Love" but there can be little disputing that Will Jennings got it right when he penned the following lyrics to "My Heart Will Go On" which Celine Dion sang so beautifully as the title track of the movie Titanic:
"Love can touch us one time, and last for a lifetime
And never let go till we're gone.
Love was when I loved you, one true time to hold on to
In my life we'll always go on."
Not only that but it need not last for very long in order to have a profound impact. Once it arrives, however, nothing ever will be quite the same again for either good or bad.
The good part about love is the happiness that it brings with it; the bad part consists of the inconsolable pain and emptiness that lingers on long after it is gone. The only consolation lies in accepting that one is not possible without the other.
Finally, anyone even remotely familiar with cats, dogs, and other animals understands only too well that the notion that they do not have souls is pure nonsense. Such an inquiry would be more fruitfully directed at man himself.
"As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower beings, he will never know health or peace," the presocratic philosopher Pythagoras pointed out more than twenty-six-hundred years ago. "For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Instead, he who sows the seeds of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love."
Even in uttering those lofty sentiments Pythagoras erred grievously by dismissing the animals as "lower beings." As Mark Twain so forcefully put it in his essay "The Lowest Animal," it is precisely man who is the basest and most contemptible of all creatures and he proves it millions of times each day through his systematic exploitation and abuse of the animals, Mother Earth, and his fellows.
Photos: Corriere Fiorentino (Toldo), Opposing Views (Tommy), La Voz (Capitán), and Manchester Evening News (Oscar and Arthur).