They sleep under ancient Roman frescoes and walk on priceless mosaic floors, but they are far from living a privileged life. They are the dogs of Pompeii - sick, starving, dirty and scruffy stray dogs who wander through the ruins of the volcano stricken Roman town.
The poor animals have been living in the ancient Roman town for decades, marking the territory by urinating on the ancient walls, and relying on compassionate tourists for food and water.
"Stray dogs have given Pompeii a bad image, but things are going to change. From now on, dogs will have their own identity and dignity and will be taken care of," Pompeii's emergency commissioner Marcello Fiori said at a press conference on Monday.
Unveiling the dog project at the House of the Tragic Poet, home to the famous "Cave Canem" (Beware of Dog) mosaic, Fiori explained that Pompeii is populated by more than 50 dogs.
Volunteers from three of Italy's leading animal charities have already fitted the animals with microchips, collars and name tags.
Christened with the names of the ancient Pompeian residents - Meleagro, Odone, Plautus, Vesonius, Polibia, Menade, Licinio, Eumachia, Caio - the dogs will be treated for any illnesses and then sterilized. Volunteers have already established shelters just outside the ancient town's walls.
But the most important part of the project is to find a new home for each dog.
"The dogs cannot remain at the site forever. Our goal is to find them a family," Fiori said.
In the next weeks, anyone will be able to request a dog adoption through a web site just launched by the Archaeological Superintendency: http://www.icanidipompei.com
Photo: The Cave canem mosaic in House of the Tragic Poet. Courtesy of Soprintendenza Archeologica Napoli e Pompei.