A Dog’s Life

By and far, my favorite thing about living part-time in Sicily is reveling in the cultural differences between my “American” life and that which I share with my Sicilian cousins every summer.

We laugh about continents; Americans count seven, while Sicilians count five (no Antartica and “The Americas” count as 1).  We laugh about number of our cats’ “lives” after their demises; Americans – nine, Sicilians – seven.  Jokingly, everything is “bigger, taller, wider”  in America, even if it is something of the same size of its Sicilian counterpart.  We have countless inside jokes about the “grandness” of the Americani and the “provincial-ness” of the Siciliani.  It’s all in good fun between family members from the opposite sides of the pond.

Cooper Walsh
Cooper Walsh

This past   Christmas, we surprised our children with a puppy; a lively 7-week old Golden-Doodle named Cooper.  And so the story begins; a segue to the new topic which has brought many laughs to my conversations with my Sicilian cousins in 2013.

Dogs in Sicily have forever been my “beasts of burden” during summers at our house in the mountainous countryside of Cefalù.   Driving up the majestic, curvy roads to Allegracuore, we pass panoramas of the sea, the valley, the port, and the quaint fishing village below.  We also pass feral mutts, scavenging for food at every trash container, wandering in packs along the sides of the road.  Their fur, matted and filthy; their eyes, full of craziness from living in the wild.  Sicilians rarely spay or neuter their dogs or cats and a plethora of these ownerless animals roam the streets.

After wonderful evenings eating al fresco at the table with my cousins until the wee hours of the morning, retiring to bed for me means, “How long until I am able to fall asleep with the dogs barking across the valley all night long?”  I have recorded their barks, counting the number of different voices I hear each night; much like counting sheep in the American culture, a way to lull oneself to sleep.

I cringe at the knowledge that my cousins don’t even hear the dogs barking.   “The beauty of sleeping in campagna“, says my cousin, Ottavio, “is the rumori surrounding  the country house.”   But not all of the dogs we hear are wild; they belong to our neighbors as well.

“Do you know that in America we have laws about dogs barking outside and that we will receive fines if our neighbors complain?”  Ridiculous! Sicilians leave their dogs outside all day and all night, barking to their hearts’ content.  (Though, I have heard rumors about death by poison of a noisy Sicilian dog or two…)

“Do you know that we are required by law to pick up the feces our dogs make?  We have scented plastic bags and pick up each dropping by hand.”  I had to repeat this several times in Italian because surely I was not translating this properly- it made no sense to him.   The idea was ludicrous.  The vision of a Sicilian lawyer in his Hogan shoes and his cashmere dolce vita picking up dog poop with his hands is contradictory of everything one holds sacred about Sicilian men.

Our largest laugh has come from the hiring of my dog-walker from Baltimore Dog.  “Non capisco“, Ottavio said, “You pay HOW MUCH to have this woman walk and play with your dog twice a day while you are at work?”

On a recent FaceTime conversation, my cousin and Taylor (the dog-walker) met virtually.  “I am sorry to tell you this”, he said to her, “you would be unemployed if you lived in Sicily!”  She responded quickly by saying, “That is why I live in America!”

The American Dream.  There are over 20 employees walking dogs for just this one company alone – it is lucrative work in America. I thought to myself that surely in Roma or Milano, some professional or fashion designer could utilize a service like this as well, no?

Other doggie discussions followed for which he was dumbfounded by the Americani, such as:

Dog Pool at Pet Depot
Dog Pool at Pet Depot
  • Buying plane tickets for dogs so they don’t have to fly below in the cargo hold
  • Dog bakeries that make and sell doggie cookies and treats
  • Swimming pools and fitness centers for dogs to get exercise, like this one pictured at Pet Depot
  • Dog hotels and country clubs for when the owners go on vacation.
  • Paying thousands of dollars for dogs from a breeder

In America, we have a lot of dog-related phrases and idioms incorporated into our dialog.    “The dog days of summer” or “It’s a dog’s life”.  The Sicilians have sayings as well, such as,  “Sotto il palazzo, c’e’ un cane pazzo ..”, (though the rest I can not repeat since I have manners).

No doubt, the lives of American dogs and the lives of Sicilian dogs are as culturally different as their owners’ lives.   I’m certain if dogs could talk, they, too, would revel in the differences with their counterparts on the opposite side of the pond.  And laugh.

Mia Walsh

Mia Walsh
Mia Walsh
Mia Potthast Walsh is the Technology Curriculum Specialist at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson, Maryland. Her great-grandparents were born in Cefalù, Sicily, where she and her husband recently purchased a rustic home, joyously surrounded by her cousins. For sport, Mia races Porsches on American road circuits and is the Membership Director for the Porsche Club of America. She is a frequent contributor to the Potomac Region’s Der Vorgänger magazine. She is also passionate about her Vespa scooter and all things “Andrea Camilleri”.

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  1. Hello!
    My name is sandra and I’m in Palermo for 6 week. I saw two stray dogs at the Massimo museum if you know where that is. The one had a big thing on the side of the stomach and I think that she/he needs help. “Veterinary” kind of help. They are both big dogs and the one with a big thing on the side is light and the other dogs is brown. They usually are at the massimo museum. I want to help them, can you maybe tell me who I should call or somerhing. They need help, Love and caring. Not just toss them in some cages. I mean really help them.
    Sincerely Sandra

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