No visitor to Greece can be immune to the plight of stray cats and dogs. They are everywhere and sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between pets and strays. Greece has one of the highest populations of stray cats and dogs in the developed world, despite the efforts of animal welfare charities such as the RSPCA and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) to help fund and implement stray animal programmes. As a result, there are few well-run animal shelters in the country, no culture of adopting strays and the indiscriminate poisoning of unwanted colonies is not uncommon.
During the holiday season, strays are sustained by scraps from well-meaning but misguided visitors, who write “Greek cats are so friendly” on postcards with photos of charming cats posing next to chipped pots of geraniums or lounging in front of blue-painted doorways. During the tourist season many survive thanks to the tourists, who feel sad at their plight, and feed them scraps. Most tavernas have throngs of stray cats and dogs begging for food. What the tourists don’t realise is that once the resorts shut up shop for the winter, the cats face a lingering death by poison or are simply left to starve.
Those that do survive are frequently poisoned – just a normal way of life to so many Greeks, even though this is illegal practice. There is no sterilisation programme, which would improve the situation greatly, but there is no interest in the welfare of animals, either from the authorities, or from the Greek public. This results in a constant flow of kittens and puppies to replace the dying adult population, and so the sad cycle starts again, year in, year out. Another factor is the Greeks antipathy to having cats and dogs spayed – being ever such macho guys they don’t like to interfere with manhood so the sight of cats with alarming gonads and extended cat families is not uncommon.
EU animal welfare laws are signed up to by Greece and you will get reassuring statements from manicured bureaucrats in the Athens Ministries on this as you will on other matters such as the (non existent) Smoking Ban, Health and Safety, seatbelts, crash helmets, taxation etc; but as always it is an emollient fiction for the Xenos. However there is light in this darkness and as always in Greece, great individual kindness when you need help, as we were to find out.
We were walking back along the seafront in Kos Town after a trip to Kalymnos when two friendly strays came up to us. They started running around us playfully. This is the great thing about stray animals in Greece, they are actually very sociable. Certainly it is because they want and appreciate food but also they are used to going up to humans and they crave human interaction and attention. It is why paradoxically Greek strays make such great pets. These two dogs ran around us for a while and then ran off to play in the gardens by the seaside corniche.
Next we hear a sickening thud and a yelp of pain. Looking around we see the larger dog flying through the air having been hit by a red Smart Car (Memo to Kos Police; how many red Smart Cars are there on Kos, an Island of 30,000 people?) which then continues without stopping but not before hitting the dog once again. We were frozen and shocked at what had happened and the callous way the driver had hit the dog again and then driven on without stopping. Amazingly, the dog got up but was obviously badly injured and traumatised with his front leg hanging down obviously broken but he still tried to drag himself away from the scene. Instinctively I went after him. I thought at first he was in the sea for the tide was in but a couple of 100 meters further on at the crescent at the beginning of Geo Papandreou Street in front of the Kos Hotel I found him whimpering and confused.
I tried to comfort him and put him on his side to stop him trying to walk and I was joined by two Italian girls who were staying in the hotel. The girls and Jo stayed with the dog whilst I went across to Kos Mini Mart under the Hotel to see if they could help and I wanted to get food and water to see if I could help get him out of shock. The Albanian women who ran the mini mart with her husband was luckily a pet owner with a dog and a cat and she came over with a beach towel to examine the dog. He looked like a cross between a Labrador and a Beagle and at this stage we had christened him Gorgas. There was no dog food in the mini-mart so I brought over a packet of ham slices and a bottle of water which were both gratefully lapped up by the our new doggy friend. We had now moved Gorgas out of harm’s way on the beach and were joined by an English couple, Glen and Louise. She went off to see how we could get an emergency vet and was gone for over half an hour.
Amazingly Louise reappeared having walked the length of Kos Town and found a vet at his home address. He confirmed the leg was broken and gave Gorgas a pain killer and an anti inflammatory injection. I held him while the vet was injecting him and then as throughout the night he was totally mild mannered and never snapped, not sure I would have been so calm myself if circumstances were reversed. Indeed the dog seemed to sense that we were helping him and was grateful, particularly when I returned with another pack of ham and water. The vet said that his leg needed to be splinted but he couldn’t do it if he was going to stay on the street as the dog would not be able to fend for himself. Like the other vets on the island he provides this emergency service for strays as charitable work and he refused to accept a payment from us. Meanwhile the two Italian girls who were staying in Kos Hotel enlisted the help of the really helpful Greek receptionist, Demetria, to contact a local animal shelter.
Night was closing in and we had to head off making sure Gorgas was warm for the night and out of harm’s way for now but hoped he’d be collected as the nights can be cold in Kos at this time of year. The next morning we checked and he wasn’t where we left him. We called into the mini mart and the lady said “good news” and explained Vangelis from Z.O.E.K. had collected Gorgas and he was going to be OK. We contacted Vangelis Trakossa a couple of days later to see if we could visit. He actually brought him to our hotel to see us and Gorgas recognised us right away and bounced over to us on his splinted leg. He was all over us, maybe he realised we had saved him or maybe it was just his sociable nature. Vangelis I have to tell you is a local hero who basically gives everything he has to look after animals. Being religious he is like a local St Francis of Assisi believing we have a duty to show kindness to animals. He runs the shelter full time with his wife Jaana on a wing and a prayer relying on voluntary contributions from tourists, contributions in kind from people on Kos and the odd contribution from animal charities abroad. He and his wife have over a hundred animals including a three legged donkey! Whilst his shelter is separate from ARK (Animal Rescue Kos) they all work together on the island.
He said that he brings Gorgas into the house as he is so sociable he is exhausted by the end of the day. He said he is one of the most intelligent and friendly dogs he has met. He will keep Gorgas (unless he is rehomed) until March next year so he’ll make a full recovery and won’t starve or be poisoned over the winter. We made a donation to Vangelis’s beleaguered and overworked charity and you can do the same, here are the details;
ALPHA BANK – Kos branch: 641
Account number: 002101-073806
Bank codes needed if you would like to transfer money from abroad:
IBAN : GR92 0140 6410 6410 0210 1073 806
BIC ; CRBAGRAAXXX
There are also details on the sites below of how to adopt one of these friendly strays from Kos and if you are in the UK the lengthy quarantine period is being abolished from 1st January 2012. Thanks also to all the great people who helped on the night and afterwards – we have seen the worst of people (in a red Smart car) and the best of people – everybody else. As for Gorgas if we did bring him here we would have an extremely friendly and loyal dog, after all we did save his life. On second thoughts being so intelligent he might work out that the climate is better in Greece, time will tell!
“Ignorance, the root and the stem of every evil.” – Plato –
ARK – Animal Rescue Kos website
ARK – Animal Rescue Kos Facebook page
This is the site of The Greek Animal Welfare Fund which is dedicated to bringing about significant and lasting improvement to the treatment and status of animals in Greece.