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Stray Cats and Washing Machines: Memories of Inspired Kindness | Frommer's Victoria Shuba/Shutterstock

Stray Cats and Washing Machines: Memories of Inspired Kindness

One of the great blessings of travel is that it allows us to see how people across the globe lead their daily lives. That includes how they handle the problems that rarely make the news.

Alas, we're in a no-travel time right now. But we can still scratch that travel itch by learning about contemporary cultures across the globe—and the way the Portuguese are dealing with stray cats offers welcome insight into that country's decency and creativity. 

Last October, a veterinarian in the southern mountain town of Monchique noticed two kittens taking shelter in a damaged washing machine sitting in her yard. Instead of throwing the machine out, she decided to use it to give those stray cats a home. She filled it with old blankets.

The cats have lived there ever since, and eventually Dr. Ana Silver convinced the town council to allow her to turn other abandoned washing machines and dryers into cat condos. High school students painted them to ensure they wouldn't be eyesores.

Because Dr. Silver could now more easily find the stray cats, she was able to spay and neuter dozens of them, helping to keep the feral population down.

The program was so successful that it's now being tried by the Municipal Veterinary Medicine Office of Valongo, a neighborhood of Porto. The group hopes to eventually set up 50 of these "cat colonies," which will help them find and sterilize the feral population. Some kittens will be put up for adoption, but most of them will simply be returned to the streets (a clipped ear shows a cat has been sterilized).

This is a small story, to be sure, but one that made me think fondly back on my trip to Portugal in the fall of 2019. As I wandered around Lisbon and Porto, learning about the history and culture, I found it so moving to see for myself how what had once been the poorest and least free nation in Western Europe (under dictator António Salazar from 1932 to 1968) was now on the upswing. Cafés were bustling, streets were clean, the museums superb—it was clear the country was thriving. I was treated with great kindness wherever I went.

That kindness, it seems, was not just for visitors—it's even being offered to stray cats.

And that little bit of good news makes me surprisingly happy in this dark time.

In a way, thinking about it brings me back to the feelings of optimism that I felt while exploring Portugal.