Aldo Giavonotti: A Conservationist at Heart
Take one look at Aldo Giavonotti. For a man well into his golden years, he is remarkably fit.
“I hope you brought better shoes,” he half laughs, half warns as he keys the ignition of the tiny, two-door car to life. He hushes the yelps of his two blonde English Setters who stalk the small trunk space of the hatchback.
Aldo and a two-auto caravan of his friends and dogs are going to the mountain that sits just to the southwest of Cagli, Italy. Monte Petrano is a formidable peak; it is so lofty, the Adriatic Sea is visible from its top.
The locals who live in and around Cagli claim the grass at the top is so nutrient rich, the horses and cattle get drunk eating it. A variety of game calls the mountain home.
The men are taking their dogs— six of them, all a mix of black- or blonde-spotted English Setters— to a gently sloping stretch of land that cushions the top of the mountain like a fluffy green pillow. The trip serves several purposes: to keep the dogs trained and in shape and check on the land.
Luigi Pantaleoni, Tonino Adami, and Aldo have been doing this together since they were 15. Enricho Copporoni, although not as old as the others, is nearly as invested. Although they have a long wait until the regular hunting season, the dogs need a thorough romp.
Aldo shakes his head as the caravan nears the top. His smile is wiped away with a new expression of sternness; he furrows his brow.
“They’ve been cutting the grass again,” he says, anger coloring his tone.
As the car finally reaches the top, doors open and slam. Jumping Setters scatter to the field, two or three wearing lemon-yellow training collars that trill every few seconds to let the hunters know where each dog has gone.
“This land is sacred,” says Aldo, a look of reverence passing over his face. “Many generations have spent their hours on Monte Petrano; father to father and son to son.”
Training collars chirp in the distance, and the men gather for the hike. Each hunter carries a whistle that sags on their wrinkled necks, their canvas pants tucked into rubber boots. They amble across acres of plowed land— Aldo in the lead with his walking cane— to reach the uncut grasses where the birds hide.
The Setters are already there, and they scurry in and out, stalking quail in deep ravines. An early morning blast of wind nudges Aldo forward.
He points out several deep holes, dotted here and there, that were used in the old days to house gelato. Many are almost invisible in the knee-high brush.
Cinghiale, or wild boar, activity is also evident, their search for tiny, wild onions leaving deep ruts in the ground. Setters intermittently sniff the ruts. They run to their masters and back down the hillside.
“Luigi hears better, and I see better, so together we make the perfect team,” says Aldo with a chuckle. They help each other keep tabs on the younger dogs.
Aldo is a former semi-pro soccer player and quality-control textile manager. He says the hunting hobby came naturally. His father passed away of lung cancer, leaving Aldo to shoulder family responsibility at a young age. He escaped the pressures by hunting.
He still hunts every fall with his friends, and, of course, his beloved dogs.
Bora is the only surviving heir of a litter of pups delivered by caesarian section from Bianca, Aldo’s lead Setter. Enrico, the youngest member of their hunting group, has a daughter who is a veterinarian. She saved Aldo’s dogs.
“My dogs are like my daughters,” says Aldo in a quiet voice. “Bianca is a beautiful dog. She didn’t deserve that.”
He cares as much for the land as he does his dogs. In fact, Aldo and his friends are true conservationists. Although he hunts quail, pheasant, and wild pigeons, Aldo says, “We only fire about 10 bullets in a given season.” His main concern is the grass harvested for hay from the hunting fields.
“When the grasses are cut, tractors destroy eggs, nests, and habitats,” he explains.
Aldo remains hopeful that generations of new Cagliesi will take over their tradition of hunting and checking on the land. He would like to pass the tradition on to his children, but they refuse to consider hunting as a hobby on grounds of animal cruelty.
“My children are vegetarian. They told me they’d rather see all the hunters dead in a heap than kill something,” Aldo says. He says he hopes the sons and daughters of his younger friends will carry on the tradition, but he is skeptical.
“The night is theirs, and they don’t want to get up to go hunting in the morning,“ he says.
When the dogs and old men are good and tired, they start the hike back to their cars. As they walk, they chat animatedly as they pick up random, blowing bits of trash. The Setters stay a little in front, leading the way.