A medical officer in the Italian army is being prosecuted for saving the life of a pregnant cat while on duty at a Nato base in Kosovo.
According to the military prosecutor’s indictment, Lieutenant Barbara Balanzoni violated a written order not to “approach or be approached by wild, stray or unaccompanied animals” near the army facility known as the “Italian Village”.
Lt Balanzoni, a reservist who has since gone back to her civilian job as an anaesthetist in Tuscany, stands accused of “gross insubordination” for disobeying the order, signed by the commanding officer of the base in May 2012.
If found guilty, she faces a minimum one year jail sentence.
Speaking to the Guardian, Lt Balanzoni said that at the time there were a lot of cats on the base and that while they were theoretically strays, they were treated affectionately by the troops and belonged there.
She said that on the day of the alleged incident, army personnel phoned the infirmary for help after they were concerned by the noises made by one cat, later named Agata.
Lt Balanzoni said the veterinary officer was in Italy when she received the call. “Far from disobeying orders, I was following military regulations, which state that, in the absence of a vet, the medical officer should intervene.”
She arrived to find the cat had taken refuge in an army pavilion to give birth, but got into difficulties with the final, stillborn kitten. Without help, Agata was certain to die.
“If the cat had died, the entire area would have had to be disinfected. What is more, the surviving kittens could not have been fed. So they too would have died and created an even greater public health problem,” Lt Balanzoni said.
Prosecutors say that rather than preventing a public health problem, the reservist could potentially have caused one. In the process of helping Agata, Lt Balanzoni was bitten – what she describes as “only a scratch, nothing serious” – and had to be taken to hospital in Germany to receive a rabies vaccination.
The case is set to be brought to trial on 7 February, but before then will be the subject of a question to the defence minister in the Italian parliament.
Lt Balanzoni’s cause has been taken up by Ente Nazionale Protezione Animali, Italy’s oldest animal protection agency, whose online petition has been signed by almost 10,000 people.
According to reports in Corriere Della Sera, Lt Balanzoni, 39, lives with a cat and a dog, and told the court she has one dream: “To be able to continue working for the army, an institution that I love ... as much as I love cats.”
Agata, she said, remains alive and well on the base in Kosovo.