An ancient Roman fable tells the tale of twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, whose mother was forced to abandon them by her father, the King, in the Tiber River. Legend says they were rescued by a female wolf who cared for them until humans found and raised them.
In present-day Rome, a statue of the Lupa Capitolina keeps a watchful eye over the city from the ancient Capitoline Hill. The Roman Football Club, A.S. Roma, uses her as its emblem, and the 1960 Summer Olympics held in Rome proudly boasted the Capitoline she-Wolf on their posters. Her omnipresence is an ode to the deep-rooted reverence Italy has for human’s best friend.
Similar to Italy, I have a subconscious, built-in love for dogs. I fortunately inherited this from my parents who are both proud “dog people”. Me and Jake, our family’s first yellow Labrador, did everything together from the age of three. As I learned to ride a bike, he trotted along next to me. If I threw food from my plate, he caught it before either of us could get in trouble. When I started writing short stories, he was the first I read them to. Even as a kid, I knew he wouldn’t judge me.
My fondest memories are the mornings before heading off to school. I remember my sister and I leaning over to lift the flap of Jake’s ear to whisper, “I love you! See you later!” This ritual remained after he passed and Luke and Lola–another yellow labrador and a German Shepherd–came into our lives. While my parents never got on the floor to give hugs and lift ears, they never walked out the door without saying bye to “their favorite and most well-behaved children.” Dogs are family.
When I moved to Italy in 2016, one of the first things I noticed is how the “pets are people” philosophy is acknowledged by all Italians, not just pet owners. Dogs are not just allowed in restaurants, they’re invited. There is no such thing as a “dog-friendly office” because it’s the only type of office. Bowls are set outside almost every single restaurant and shop, and in the summer it’s common that dogs will be offered water before their humans. Stretches of beach are dedicated to dogs because Italians know they deserve a holiday for keeping their humans sane. I may not have spoken Italian yet, but I already felt at home in a country where people love their dogs as insanely much as I do.
When I adopted a pup of my own from Southern Italy in 2017, it became even more evident that I was living in the most dog-friendly country in the world. The first day I brought Sonny–my Golden Retriever-Cocker Spaniel mix–to the cafe I frequented weekday mornings before work, you truly would have thought I had just given birth to a human child in the middle of the cafe. “Quanto sei carino! Quanto sei bello! Auguri alla tua famiglia!”
One of the most endearing qualities about Italian communities is that even if the locals don’t know you by name, it takes just a few loyal trips to the bar and time spent practicing Italian to know your face and treat you like a regular. That first year with Sonny, I lived and worked on the same street and was able to cultivate a few “regular” spots. Our first day walking from the house to the office, we were stopped by every barista, shop owner, and local on their way to begin their day and asked, “Como si chiama?” All it took was one encounter and immediately upon becoming part of my family, he was instantly a treasured member of the entire Via Ghibellina pack. Every morning walk after that was held up by multiple stops as he was greeted with glee by the boutique hotelier sitting on his front stoop to the owner of the cafe next door: “Buongiorno, Sonny!” They didn’t all know my name, but they absolutely knew his. And I became amusingly proud to be known just as “Sonny’s mom,” because who wouldn’t want to be the person walking a smiling dog who brings a little joy to everyone’s day?
The Italian embracement of having your dog join you on errands doesn’t just end after morning coffee, though. Whether I’m at the grocery store, meeting friends for aperitivo, or out to dinner with my fiance, it’s rare that Sonny isn’t right by my side–if not under my feet being served a Bistecca alla Fiorentina that looks better than mine. It’s common that when Sonny joins us for dinner, sitting quietly but staring longingly as primos are swapped out for secondos, restaurant staff will come over with meat and cheese in hand to ask, “Posso?” By the time we approve of feeding the dog, they are already on one knee rearranging the water bowl they’ve provided so there’s room for a plate of food under the table. The funny thing is…they never bring over scraps. Sonny is always just as well-fed as any other paying customer.
More often than not, my friends’ dogs are sharing that steak with him. This isn’t to say that all our fur children aren’t constantly paw-ing our hands, begging for us to put down our drinks and scratch their chins instead, but luckily there are plenty of Italians around who are ready and willing to give pets.
I didn’t know it was possible to be more obsessed with dogs more than I already was, but living in a country that shows their appreciation for the peace, love and comfort these irreplaceable family members bring to our lives has multiplied my respect and love for dogs, and my little best friend in particular, ten-fold. I was wrong: “pets are people” is not just a philosophy, it’s a way of living that is exemplified throughout the most dog-friendly country in the world.
So while I don’t have much in common with the ill-fated Roman twins, I can safely say there is one thing we share: we’ve both been saved by the love of an Italian dog. And while I admire everything about Italy–the food, the lifestyle, the history–there is nothing I admire more than how their respect for dogs is ingrained into the culture.