Monday, 2 November 2015

Crash landings in Kasos - by Anna Stamatiou, Trustee

It has taken a long time for the small island of Kasos in the south-eastern Aegean to form a local welfare group.  It’s a tiny community.  There are only about 900 permanent residents after all, and many of them struggle with subsistence farming – scratching a living from arid and rocky ground that has been overgrazed and depleted down the years.  There are enough olive trees for the people to produce their own year’s supply of oil, while the sheep and goats (too many for the land to support naturally – thank you, EC subsidies) have to have their diet supplemented with bought-in feed corn. 

So it’s a tough place to live, and there is no inclination to sentimentality when it comes to animals and their welfare.

Nevertheless, there have been gifts of surprising creatures made to the municipality over the years, probably in a misguided attempt to support the local community by providing an “attraction” that might serve to amuse the locals and draw in much-needed summer visitors.  A pair of ostriches (both male… ooops!) turned up at some point; a pair of fallow deer followed; someone went abroad and abandoned a colourful macaw.  When a pair of Shetland ponies was donated they soon began to breed and now there are nine of them! 

Conditions at the menagerie where all these are housed are not as good as they might be.  Lack of funding too often means that standards of cleanliness and availability of food and water can be serious issues.  Animals don’t have appropriate space or good enough shelters.  Various people began protesting and also agitating for something to be done for the stray cat and dog population.    About a year ago a welfare group was formally constituted and began working in a more organised way than before.  Automatic cat-feeders have since appeared in town, placed there to try and support the colonies that struggle to survive the winter.  Neutering trips have also taken place, and conditions for the equines at the menagerie have recently begun to improve. 

Two Eleonora's falcons

GAWF’s Equine Team has visited three times in four years and you can read reports of those visits here.  After castration of the two Shetland stallions the herd will not, now, grow larger, and the birth defects that would have been the inevitable consequence of severe inbreeding will be avoided.
While the welfare group expected to be involved with improving conditions at the menagerie, and to do something to control the numbers of stray companion animals, perhaps its members didn’t bargain for some of the other challenges that have since come their way…

In September, a couple of wounded, rare and endangered Eleonora’s falcons were found – within a day of each other – and there was general consternation… who could diagnose what was wrong with the birds?  There is no vet on Kasos.  But Isabella, the group’s President, rose to the occasion and quickly arranged for the pair to be sent to Athens by ferry where ANIMA – the wildlife rescue organisation – was able to care for them.  Pictures of the birds on their way to recovery appeared on social media, and word went round.
The pelican, resting

So a couple of days ago, when a large, grey pelican fetched up in someone’s garden, limping a bit and clearly exhausted, the locals swung into action like a well-oiled machine…

Young mum, Dionysia, posted a photo… farmer, Filippis, arrived on his tractor and took the bird home where he tenderly fed it and gave it water.  His wife, Julie, and dance-teacher, Eliza, gently persuaded the bird into a cardboard box for a journey while it was otherwise occupied trying to eat Eliza’s knee, and it, too, has now arrived at ANIMA’s rescue centre. 

This novel interest in animal welfare seems to be providing the small community with a whole new sense of pride and achievement.  Long may it last!

Julie and Eliza preparing the pelican for travel
Filippis shows his tender side

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

A positive initiative from the Greek Police - by Anna Stamatiou, Trustee

It’s probably fair to say that when anyone mentions the Greek police, the image that most quickly springs to mind is of lines of officers behind Perspex riot shields trying (and failing) to keep order in front of the Parliament building in Syntagma Square, Athens. 

The image I have chosen is fairly typical in that respect.  And here’s Loucanicos, the riot dog too, giving the massed ranks a piece of his mind.  But, we are assured, all that is about to change. 

Following a pilot project that ran from April to June this year, a new initiative is now to be rolled out nationally.  From the 7th of September, the police announced, there will be a weekly “citizen’s hour” at every police station in Greece!  People are encouraged to come in and speak to the senior officer about any kind of criminal activity that is causing them concern.  Not only private individuals can come… the invitation extends to societies, groups and associations of all kinds too.  So from now on, each Monday evening between 6 and 8 p.m., there should be a listening ear at every police station. The idea, as announced, is for a dialogue covering every aspect of police work in the community to be started and then maintained.  It is hoped that this will lead to better informed and more responsive policing, while at the same time greater understanding of the role of the police develops in society, and confidence in the police service grows.  

Naturally, welfare groups are seeing this as an opportunity to air concerns about criminal cases of neglect, abuse and poisonings in their local communities, and to urge officers to act.  It has to be said that complaints concerning the abuse of animals have not, to date, always been given high priority by the Greek police. 

So, will it turn out to be window dressing or something real?  Time will tell. 

Monday, 29 June 2015

Clare's stay in Greece - Part five

It’s my final week in Kefalonia and my mind set has changed – I no longer feel I have ‘a future’ on the island as I’m now counting down the days.  Having said this, I’m determined to make the most of the last week and try and enjoy my time as I have done over the preceding weeks.  But I know I can come back and do the same again next year and this cheers me up! As the six weeks has gone so fast I’ve decided to come for eight weeks next time.  With this in mind, and the cost involved, I know I need to find a house which is smaller and without the pool!  The pool’s been lovely but haven’t used it that much, preferring to spend time on the beautiful beaches where the dogs can easily get into the water to cool down.   I’ve been looking at houses on the internet and even been to see a couple so the ball is rolling!

There has been a traffic diversion in place on the island during my stay.  There was a large earthquake on the island in January 2014 which damaged part of the coastal road on the west side of the island, making it dangerous to use.  Whilst the authorities discuss and debate in true Greek form the best way around the problem, the diversion  remains in place which means that a wide circuitous route must be take around the east side of the island to get from one end of the island to the other.  The diversion takes you through some beautiful countryside and allows staggering views across the sea to Ithaki, its neighbouring island, but does add a considerable amount of time and mileage to the journey.  So, everyone works hard to make sure they don’t have to make the trip more often than they need to and people help each other out with shopping and chores that need to be done in the capital.

I had planned to donate one of the dog’s beds and some blankets to the ARK (Animal Rescue Kefalonia) rescue centre which is located near to Argostoli, and which GAWF supports.  So, when taking Sarah to the airport, it seemed sensible to go there at the same time, as I knew I wouldn’t be in that area again during my stay.  Having never been to an animal rescue centre, Sarah was unsure about whether she wanted to go, worrying about what she may encounter when she was there.  But she decided to come with me in the end.  When we arrived I was pleased that the wonderful Marina (who I met when here two years ago and who runs the centre), was there.  She speaks very little English (and I speak very little Greek) but luckily, an English volunteer, Gill was there and we were able to find out what is happening with the centre at the moment.  They currently have around 350 dogs (including 36 puppies from the last few days) plus numerous cats.  I had warned Sarah that the sound of the barking is deafening when you arrive, as the dogs all clamour for your attention as you walk through.
Clare and Sarah with Marina at ARK
The animals are either rescued from the streets (if they are strays and need medical help), rescued from abusive situations or simply abandoned by their owners on the streets or at the gates to the centre.  The numbers sadly are increasing over time, and this seems to be linked to the current economical situation in Greece.  Having said this, I have noticed in Greece in general over more recent years, more Greek people with dogs as pets, walking them on leads.  This is a good sign, together with an increase in the number of vets operating on the islands.  So it seems that things are improving, albeit at a slow pace.

We talked about how hard just putting down food and water every day for 350 dogs must be, without any of the other tasks such as cleaning out the pens, giving them medication and making sure that they are happy and suited to the dogs they are sharing their pen with.  They also spend a lot time dealing with the police and the courts in trying to bring perpetrators to justice.  So many people on the island are involved with the charity and help out in any way they can.  And Marina, works 365 days a year – the dogs still need feeding on Christmas Day!  What a task, and I felt overcome with admiration for her.

We made a small monetary donation to the centre, which Marina was absolutely thrilled with.  She wanted a picture taken with us and even put on some lipstick which had been given to her recently, for the occasion! 

It was an emotional experience for both of us and Sarah told me later that it has really given her food for thought in terms of possibly taking a rescue dog on at some point in the future.  I can’t recommend it enough!  Having any dog is a privilege but to take a rescue gives you an added feeling of satisfaction, knowing that you’re giving that dog a loving home where they can be given the attention and time they deserve.

Clare and Poppy and Dexter - ready to go - but already making plans to return next year!
My stay here has now come to an end, but what a fantastic time I’ve had. It was better than I could ever have hoped for and the great thing is that it will still be there next year for me! I said my goodbyes to all the people I met, including the wonderfully hospitable owners of my house, Claire and Nikos and headed off to the port in Sami to catch the ferry to the mainland. 

Goodbye Kefalonia – see you next year!!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Clare's stay in Greece - part four

My friend, Sarah, came and went.  Although only here for 4 days, we had some great times together.  All low key and little effort required, we took the dogs out in the mornings, usually to the beach, chatted over coffee and breakfast in local cafes, sunbathed, chatted and of course, ate lots of the delicious Greek food!!  We both said how lovely it was to relax and not to have to rush off somewhere. 

The dogs went crazy when she first arrived at the house, as they know her so well and she has such a soft spot for them both.  On day two of her stay, she actually got them both swimming in the sea.  What a moment in history for us all!  Dexter looking relaxed and calm and Poppy skimming through the waters looking like a little otter.  I posted a video on Facebook of Poppy swimming in the sea, but not so the Dexter video, as my over-the-top excitement at this historic moment would not do my street cred any good!  So for my blog here, just a picture or two to capture the moment.

Clare and Dexter in the beautiful sea!
A short while ago my friend Hayley texted me to say she couldn’t meet me for a walk, as she was taking care of a small dog she’d found wandering around the local village.  The dog clearly had some sort of illness or disease as its skin was encrusted quite badly and she was taking it to the vet in Argostoli, the capital, to try to find out what was wrong with it.  At this stage Hayley didn’t know whether it belonged to anyone and if so, whether it had been abandoned so she decided the most important thing to do whilst making enquiries was to look after the little thing.  The vet sadly confirmed that the dog had leishmaniasis, a common disease in Greece and other southern European countries, where the dog is infected by being bitten by an infected sandfly.  I had read up on it before arriving here, giving Poppy the course of injections to guard against it (but not Dexter, as he is terrified of the vet and I decided not to put him through the stress of three separate injections which is what is required) and put special collars on both dogs, which impregnate the animal to act as a repellent against the sandfly. 

Pericles when Hayley found him
But the good news is that the dog was diagnosed with cutaneous leischmaniasis (of the skin) and if treated, should not spread to the vital organs.  She got the medication he needed and had the vet trim his toenails, then took him back to her apartment where she bathed him, removed his ticks, gave him a flea treatment and bathed his sore eyes in camomile. 

In the meantime, Hayley heard that the dog did indeed belong to a local family and it had simply got out of the garden.  She took Pericles (as she had called him after the influential Greek Statesman of the Golden Age) to the owners and discovered that they had had his condition misdiagnosed by means of a photograph sent by email to a vet.  So they had been treating him for something completely different!  She explained everything to the family and handed over his medication and all the details they needed to continue to look after him.  Whilst many people on social media claimed that she shouldn’t be sending the dog back to owners who they thought didn’t seem to care, Hayley felt strongly that they did care but that the cultural differences and to an extent lack of knowledge meant that they didn’t show their love in the way we would expect them to.  For example, although they planned to put him back on a chain in the garden, they also fed him well and he had his own kennel to live in.  Over time, with Hayley’s help and encouragement, the family have made changes to the way they look after him and now he’s not even being kept on a chain!  I think this goes to show that in many cases, it is better to work with people, giving them guidance and support, rather than take other more drastic measures which may result in a less favourable outcome. 

Pericles back at home and on the road to recovery
One day whilst taking the dogs for a stroll up the lane, I was stunned to see what looked like a small pig emerging from the foliage at the side of the road.  At first I thought it must be a garden ornament of some sort, belonging to the house nearby.  When I saw a slight movement I realised that it was indeed a real live pig, or should I say piglet, measuring only about 18” from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail.  It spotted us and in its panic, fled towards us rather than away from us, skirting around the dogs at the last minute and squeezing itself through a 6” by 6” hole in the wire fence into a neighbouring field.  I asked around but no-one seemed to know who the pig might belong to and as it had disappeared there was nothing more I could do other than hope it found its way back to its owner.  It crossed my mind that if a pig was spotted loose on the road in the UK it would probably end up on the front cover of the local paper, but not here, just a normal day to day occurrence.  I still wonder every time I walk up the lane, how fear of me and my dogs clearly got him through that tiny hole in the fence!

So, no more animal stories for now but feel sure there will be something else of interest happening over the forthcoming days, in time for my blog next week.  In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy my time with Poppy and Dexter, getting them in the sea whenever I can, enjoying the local food and wine and trying not to think about the inevitable, the day I have to leave this wonderful place.  Still, it’s a while away, and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Clare's stay in Greece - part three

Life continues here on Kefalonia at a leisurely pace.  Although I have my work to do, which I tend to ‘get out of the way’ in the mornings, I still have time to enjoy our early morning walks before it gets too hot, to drive along the empty roads with views to the sea at every turn, relaxing in the garden with a book and early evening walks with the dogs. 

I realise that being here for six weeks rather than one or two weeks changes everything about the way you do things.  You spend time finding out about how things work (as you will need to know!) and you invest time in forging relationships with people which you wouldn’t necessarily do to such an extent during a fleeting visit.  There’s also a sense of not having to rush anything – getting a suntan, trying the best restaurants or seeing the sights.  There’s plenty of time for everything which I love.
Platon when Hayley first recued him
I was very quickly introduced to Hayley, an English girl who fell in love with the island in 1999 and has been coming here every summer since, this year she’s here for 6 months!  This makes my six weeks pale into insignificance in comparison!  She told me how she rescued a young dog from the side of the road near Argostoli, the capital, last summer.  The poor creature was skin and bones and despite clearly being starved, receiving attention and affection from her was more important than the food that she offered him.  Hayley took him home with a view to finding someone to adopt him, but after two weeks of lying on her back doorstep (with just his front legs inside the kitchen so he could keep an eye on his rescuer wherever she was), she slowly fell in love with this creature and of course, we all know where the story is going.  Hayley made a decision to keep Platon (after the Greek philosopher – the name she had given him) and her life changed from that moment.  She took him back with her to London for the winter, he came back out with her in April and so the pattern is set for the rest of his life. As a local said to me, ‘Platon got lucky the day he met Hayley’.  How true. 
A very happy looking Platon and Hayley now

So, Dexter and Poppy have a new friend, and Dexter and Platon play together for as long as we will let them.  Hayley’s introduced me to some local walks including the one she calls the ‘round the block’ walk which takes in stunning views of Lefkada and Ithaki islands as you go around the circle. 
Platon's life has been turned around thanks to Hayley and is now a far cry from his days of living on the street 
About a week ago I came out of the house to take the dogs for our morning walk, when I came across a small bird on the driveway.  Its legs were splayed out to the side, and its chest and head forward, face down on the ground.  After quickly getting the dogs into the car, I picked the bird up to take a better look.  It looked poorly; apparently injured and not at all alert.  I panicked a little as I realised I needed to do the right thing for this little soul, but wasn’t sure what that was!  I knew I couldn’t just put in down in the garden and leave it to the mercy of a hungry cat. I called the friendly vets in Sami to see if they could give me any advice on how to look after the bird.  He immediately said that if I could bring it in (or could find someone else to bring it in) he could see if he could work out what was wrong and perhaps give it a ‘boost’ to help it.  If he couldn’t help it himself, he could send it to the wildlife rescue centre in Athens!  They would hopefully be able to rehabilitate it over time.  Amazed at this, I asked him how the bird would get to Athens to which he replied ‘on the bus’.  I did my best not to laugh as I formed an image in my mind of this little bird sitting proudly in the middle of the front seat of the bus, under the watchful eye of the driver!

So, with this in mind, I acquired a shoe box from my neighbours, punched some holes in it, and popped the little creature in it, surrounded by tissue paper and a bowl of milk.  I left it in the house and set off to Fiskardo in search of someone who might be making the journey to Sami (1.5 hours round trip). Hayley had suggested I tried taxi drivers, the baker and the postman, all of whom might be making the trip anyway which would save me doing the drive.  I also asked the man in the chandler’s who I already knew, if he knew of anyone.  He asked me what sort of bird it was (perhaps thinking it was a bird of prey or some endangered species) and when I answered ‘a sparrow’, I can only describe his look as bemused.  He said I must be a very kind woman and was I married?   It was only later that I realised that everyone must have thought I was the mad English lady. 
Sadly I couldn’t find anyone, so I headed back to the house.  I walked in to a loud chirping from the box!  Amazed, I gingerly lifted the lid off the box and to my amazement, he was standing up, his head up and eyes open!  Elated at the improvement, I fed him bits of biscuit (no worms to hand) and watched over him for a while.  I then started wondering if actually he was a fledgling and had fallen out of the nest…..a quick search on Google said that I should put the bird back where he was found, securely in the foliage, and if the mother is still there, she will help him.  As I had no evidence that he could fly, I wedged the box in the trees near where I found him and crossed my fingers.  To my surprise, just ten minutes later, he had gone from the box.  I suspect that he hopped out onto a branch, but as the foliage was dense I couldn’t be sure.  Later that day, during the early evening, there was a cacophony of birdsong outside my bedroom window, louder than I’d heard before, and hoped that it was the sound of a happily reunited family.  I felt I had done my bit, as best I could, and slept soundly that night.  So, once again, the episode showed me that despite all the animal welfare problems in the country as a whole, that there are still people, organisations and means of helping animals when you need it. 

My friend Sarah arrives today from England to stay with me, so I will be writing my blog again next week once she’s gone and life is back to normal. 

Monday, 8 June 2015

GAWF/Animal Action's Equine Team in Paros - by Mary Price

Mary Price is one of the people on Paros who helps us to plan and organise our outreach visits there.  Both Mary and Marielli help us a great deal by spotting equines in need and contacting their owners to ask whether they would be willing for our team to treat their animals and teach them about improving welfare, which makes our visits even more worthwhile. We thank Mary, who is a journalist, for this contribution.

Two workshops on equine welfare were the highlight of the 2015 GAWF visit to the island of Paros in the Greek Cyclades.
School children feeding a donkey
On the opening of their three day stay Vet Elisa Geskou and Farrier Aris Vlachakis  were joined by 3rd,4th and 6th grade children from Kostos’ Primary School for a workshop on donkey welfare.   This was a unique experience for everybody.
Teaching children about donkey welfare
They watched in fascinated silence as donkeys had their teeth examined and treated. As she worked, Elisa explained that, like people, donkeys need tooth care. ‘If teeth are too sharp or have hooks it makes it difficult for a donkey to eat’ she told the children.  ‘And if they cannot eat they die slowly and painfully from starvation’.
School children watching and learning
‘It’s the same with feet’ added Aris, donkeys need their feet cleaned and if their nails are too long they have to be trimmed. Otherwise it is hard for them to walk’. Heads nodded sagely, this was all new information.

 The lesson went on for the best part of an hour and the team took the opportunity to explain that donkeys can live for 40 years and during that time need food, water, shelter from heat, cold and rain and above all they should not be hobbled.
An example of hobbling

‘No hobbling’ agreed the children, it is not legal in Greece’  ‘I’m surprised they said this’ observed Elisa, ‘because almost every animal on this island is hobbled - often with disastrous consequences.’  She added ‘maybe with more work the new generation will change this practice. ‘But,’ she pointed out, ‘it is always slow to change old ways.’
A common injury from hobbling
On day two in their drive to encourage people to change the island tradition of hobbling the GAWF team were joined for the second year by Nick Turck from FARMCARE UK (
Over the last year GAWF and Farmcare have worked together to find the most effective ways to demonstrate the benefits of electric fencing to the rural community of Paros.  Farmcare has generously volunteered funds, time and effort to work with GAWF to develop a strategy for managing electric fencing in a way which is suitable for the conditions which are particular to farming on Paros.
Elisa and Nick demonstrating safe use of fencing as an alternative to hobbling
Cost and the danger of fire caused by sparks from the fencing in the hot dry summers were two of the major concerns for equine owners. Cost is minimal and is offset by the economic returns from the value of undamaged animals and simple management rules mitigate against fire - was the message from Nick Turck.
Elisa giving an educational presentation
Elisa researched the damage done to animal skeletal development, not to mention the high casualty rate which is caused by hobbling. To illustrate her findings she made a powerful presentation to those who joined the workshop. This generated a lot of questions and promises of action. It remains to be seen if change does take place but the knowledge was passed on and it was encouraging that the Paros Mayor Markos Kovaios came to observe a demonstration of the all round benefits of electric fencing in action.

 As Nick Turck pointed out ‘This year I think we have communicated everything about electric fencing. The local teams are now skilled in every aspect of it. Each visitor to the fencing workshop was given a set of comprehensive leaflets packed with information on where to find support and how to work on new ways of welfare management.
An elderly donkey receiving treatment
Guided by the tireless local organizer, Marielli Andreopoulou, and state vet Nikos Tsigonias, the GAWF team treated  46  donkeys, mules and horses during their visit. As well as routine treatment they had to deal with a series of casualties.  A donkey kept alive with a leg broken as a direct result of hobbling,  a series of  neglected donkeys all hobbled too tightly, a foal with a knee abscess, now happily treated, and a horse with a broken knee.
Educating a donkey owner

‘It’s  a normal tally’ said Elisa before adding ‘but the great thing is that now we are known on the island, people are coming to us. It’s taken five years, but people trust us here which is good. It means we are moving forward’.
Treating long feet
With that the team moved on to care for the equines on Naxos - an island which has embraced electric fencing but has its own challenges…

You can read a report about the team’s visit to Naxos here 
Aris trimming feet
More hobbling

Injecting a donkey
Feet before trimming
Feet after trimming

Clare's stay in Greece - part two

After the distress I encountered last week on my arrival in Greece, my feeling of sadness and paranoia lifted in the forthcoming days, helped greatly by the beautiful and peaceful surroundings of my new home.
Poppy and Dexter having a rest near a local church

My olive mill house is situated in a small hamlet in the north of the island, with the wonderful owners, Nikos and Claire on one side and the old farmhouse which is also rented out, on the other side.  My garden leads onto thick woods which run down to the sea and is a peaceful haven for my stay.  Nikos and Claire have a well-tended and productive organic fruit and vegetable garden which I have free access to whenever I wish. At the moment, there are courgettes, lettuces and cucumbers in abundance with tomatoes and strawberries on their way.  I love the natural simplicity of wandering over in the sunshine and picking something to cook for dinner.  It makes staying in a joy!

It only took a few days to meet some of the local characters; Greeks, holiday makers and ex-pats, so I already feel at home, especially when people wave as I drive past!  My worries about feeling isolated whilst here disappeared very quickly.  Days have formed a familiar pattern of taking the dogs for a morning walk along the many trails and paths, doing my work on my laptop, relaxing in the sunshine and eating Claire’s courgette pie!  Taking the dogs with me for dinner, however, is a stressful experience as Dexter clearly wants to have fun with the local cat population.  I made the mistake of tying him to my table on one early occasion to restrain him but to my horror, on seeing a cat, he took the table with him.  I now tie him to my chair leg to anchor him to avoid any more embarrassing episodes.

As I mentioned in my first blog, the horrific practice of putting down poison to ‘control’ the local dog population is all too prevalent and so I made an appointment with my nearest vet, to establish exactly their location in case I needed them at short notice, but also to find out what to do if either Poppy or Dexter were poisoned.  They explained what to do, and demonstrated how to administer the necessary drugs.  They spent at least half an hour with me and made no charge for this advice and help, as they said it was ‘in the interests of animal welfare’.  I went away with a supply of drugs and was reassured that I could help my dogs if I needed to.

Because of the situation with poisoning, although I have also been reassured by various people here that there have been no cases of dogs being poisoned in this part of the island, precautions become a necessary part of everyday life.  I know from work in animal welfare, that poison is mixed into food and often left near public waste bins, by the side of the road and in public places such as parks.  So I keep the dogs on a tight rein when out and about but have made a decision to let them roam free on the beaches and the rural walks as I feel that these are not areas of risk.
Clare and the dogs relaxing at home
As I’m now nearing the end of the day, and we still have some sunshine, I’m going to take the dogs for another walk.  No doubt there will be more news from this beautiful island next week!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Kasos 2015 – a satisfying but emotional outreach for the GAWF/Animal Action Equine Team, Anna Stamatiou, Trustee.

Farrier Giannis, Vet Cleo and GAWF/Animal Action Trustee Anna Stamatiou

 This year’s visit to Kasos – the fourth by GAWF/Animal Action’s Equine Team – got off to a very shaky start.  In spite of our most energetic campaign so far to alert the islanders that we were coming, no one had thought to let us know in advance about a donkey with a broken leg.  I only heard about it the day before Cleo and Giannis were due to arrive – and that only because of a casual message, shouted over a garden wall.  Given how difficult it is to treat any fracture in equines, we promised to come and see the case as a top priority… but feared the worst.  So, next morning, seeking directions as we went, we found the poor animal lying on a patch of earth in the middle of the village.  Cleo took one look and shook her head.  A foreleg was badly fractured, the skin covering the break a broken and oozing mess, and there were flies everywhere.  The elderly owner was distraught but soon agreed that the only thing that could be done for her animal now was to end its torment by putting it quietly to sleep.  We said we would come back and do it a little later so that she could arrange for people to come and take the body away as soon as it was all over.  (In fact we also thought it best to give poor Mrs Calliope a little time to come to terms with the idea).  Cleo calculated that the donkey had been suffering for about three weeks, which made the Team feel terrible, but there was a silver lining in that no one felt like giving us an argument.  Had the injury been fresher, we might have had a lot more persuading to do.  But by now everyone could see that the animal’s condition was worsening and that euthanasia was truly the best option.

The second gelding
Another near-disaster loomed when we heard that Kostas Perselis, the man who cares for the ponies and donkeys that are owned or looked after by the Municipality, had been called away suddenly, and had left the island the morning the team arrived.  Since we had intended to carry out gelding procedures on the two male Shetland ponies in his care, it looked as though we might have to abandon that plan altogether.  We got to the place where the growing – and increasingly inbred – herd is kept, to find all eight of the little ruffians running about in a large paddock. Not a halter, nor even a handy length of rope, in sight.  I thought… “Right, that’s it.  Game over.”  But I had reckoned without the ingenuity of the locals and the pony-catching skills of Giannis.  Someone conjured a length of rope from somewhere and we managed to scare the first male into his smallish stable.  Giannis strode over with a determined look on his face and out of the shadows came the sounds of a scuffle, liberally seasoned with some pretty salty language.  Soon after, Giannis reappeared at the stable door with one end of the rope in his hand.  For a moment that was all that could be seen but then out came the stallion – with a temporary rope halter on his head and all four brakes jammed on hard.  Being an intelligent beast, the pony soon figured out that Giannis a) was stronger than him and b) meant him no real harm (unless, that is, you count the loss of his manhood)!  Cleo did the surgery, which went very smoothly, although the anaesthetic took a little longer to wear off than we expected.  Giannis had to do steadying head-holding duty while local lad, Christos, hung on to a tail.  Minutes later we managed to catch the second pony and repeat the above scenes more or less exactly.  Now the small herd will stop growing, which will prevent future birth defects.  All of its new members are descended from one original pair so it was only a matter of time before either mental or physical disabilities appeared.  (We will have to wait and see whether any of the females is carrying a male foal… we may not be out of the woods yet)!

We devoted most of the afternoon to what I have come to think of as “house calls” scouring the village of Aghia Marina for animals we know about, many of which we have seen on previous visits, and looking for new ones.  The first and most difficult emotionally was the return visit to Mrs Calliope’s donkey.  The poor lady wept openly as Cleo administered the drugs and her donkey died.

Draining the wound
The wound is treated and dressed
The rest of the calls went fairly uneventfully until we visited an elderly couple that reported one of their two donkeys was lame.  As Cleo’s fingers disappeared inside a wound just above the hoof and nasty stuff flowed out, it was clear that Cleo was dealing with a seriously deep infection that, if left untreated, would certainly have proved life-threatening.  Once again we had come across a case that we ought to have been told about in advance so that we could have made sure to give it priority, and once again it was by sheer luck that we were there at the critical moment. It may sound like an exaggeration to say that we saved a life that day but it’s almost certainly true.  If the young man, Christos, who Cleo trained on the spot to clean and dress the wound and administer a daily antibiotic injection, carries out his tasks (and there’s every indication that he will) that donkey will heal well and survive.  Now there’s only one thing left… to convince the owners to change their practice of tethering their animals using a thin piece of rope tied around the pastern.  Hmmm.  This may not be achievable any time soon.  Hope for changes of this kind really lies with showing the next generation better ways of doing things.
Damaged pastern after treatment

We rounded off the working day by making a repeat visit to a donkey with ballerina syndrome.  Giannis had treated it on our previous visit two years ago and was pleased to find it improved. Cleo used her enormous cutters to reduce a very overgrown tooth and the whole Team did its best to impress on an owner that being hugely overweight is as unhealthy for donkeys as it is for humans.  Giannis typically reduced the lecture to a memorably minimalist instruction:  “Lose the corn, mate”.

Essential farriery
Before we left Kasos the next day, Cleo did a final check on the geldings, which were doing fine, and also changed the dressing on the infected leg.  The swelling was reduced and more weight was being carried on it – both good signs. We went to the chemist and ordered extra needles for the antibiotic injections and all the dressings that would be needed for the wound. As we left, Cleo declared herself content with the Kasos leg of this early summer outreach trip because, as she said, “We did three very different procedures, but in each case we made a really meaningful difference to the welfare of those animals”.

Amen to that.


Anna Stamatiou, Trustee

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Clare's stay in Greece - part one

Clare is one of our fabulous UK office volunteers and when she told us about her plans for an extended stay in Greece, we thought our supporters might enjoy reading about her experiences. Here, in her first post, she tells us about her arrival in Greece and a very worrying but sadly still common case of poisoning...

As an occasional and very willing volunteer helping GAWF with their mission to help the animals, I decided to write a blog about my stay in Greece as I felt sure I would experience some animal welfare issues during my time but also to let people know what a beautiful country it is, too.

The idea of spending a good length of time in an idyllic spot in Greece came to me well over a year ago and from that moment it was full on to find the right spot.  I wanted to be in a village amongst the locals, in a village house maybe, with a garden that was enclosed for the dogs.  It needed to be somewhere with a community, a bit of a buzz but not commercialised!  I scoured my guide books from front to back and researched on the internet for months and months.  I drew up lists of places with pros and cons and eventually came up with a short list. 

I even went and checked out two of the places, Kyparissi in the Peloponnese and the island of Serifos.  Kyprarissi was beautiful but too remote (and hard for friends to visit) and Serifos had fantastic scenery and beaches but I didn’t like the town which seemed to be stuck in a 70s time warp.  I came home from that trip in September last year and finally had a lightbulb moment when I decided to go to Kefalonia, an island I’d been to several times and loved, and found a house within minutes of looking on the internet – a detached converted olive mill with a pool and no Greek neighbours to speak of (not where you could have an ‘over the fence’ interaction, at least).  So not what I had in mind a year ago!  But it felt right and the decision was made.

I made the four day drive through France, Switzerland and Italy to the port of Ancona, over on the ferry to Igoumenitsa in Greece (17 hours) and then a short drive down to the very small port of Astakos where I took the ferry over to Kefalonia.  Dexter, my rescue dog from Greece and Poppy didn’t complain once and the whole experience of looking after them during the journey was bonding, to say the least.

I collected the tickets for the ferry from the ticket booth in Astakos and whilst taking the dogs along the promenade to stretch their legs, I was approached by a German woman who explained that she lived there with her husband, that she could see I cared for my dogs, and to warn me that three days ago around 20 dogs were found poisoned around the town.  Someone had put down some powder which the local stray dogs had sniffed and then died.  I was grateful for her telling me but sat there in the queue for the ferry scouring my mind as to whether I’d seen Poppy (the more ‘food-focussed’ of my two dogs) sniffing at anything along the sea front.  It would be hard to know as she sniffs at almost everything when we’re out walking so I was very anxious to say the least. 

On board the ferry from Italy to Greece
I knew that if she had been poisoned we would be on the boat and with no vet to help the outcome would be inevitable.  I kept telling myself that surely any poisoned powder put down three days ago would have blown away by now….unless it had rained and then it might still be there?  I kept my eye on both the dogs constantly terrified of seeing the signs of poisoning (which I know tends to be shaking, dribbling, vomiting and diarrhoea).  As time went by and nothing happened, I felt safer with every passing minute and when we got to an hour since our walk on the sea front, I felt more confident that everything was going to be alright.  Suffice to say, everything WAS alright and we arrived in Sami on Kefalonia safe and sound.  But this was my first experience on arriving in Greece and it left a nasty and slightly paranoid taste in the mouth.
Dexter was very anxious on board the ferry but Poppy kept guard

I am looking forward to my first few days on Kefalonia and hope to report happier events than this one!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Stargazing - your chance to own this fabulous sculpture of animals helped by GAWF - by Damian Harrison

Since becoming aware (around 20 years ago) of the many animal welfare issues in existence today, I have become what some might call - quite opinionated. Supporting animals in need is a must do as far as I’m concerned. We can all have our reasons, our drivers to contribute, to help. For me those reasons are somewhat irrelevant – what’s important is the impact that our help makes to the present individual animal and to the collective future generations of animals sharing this planet with us. 

 When thinking about the present individual and the future generations, I think Greek Animal Welfare Fund (GAWF) has got the balance just right. GAWF initiatives and programs have both an element of hands on direct and immediate help while also looking to raise more awareness of the need for improved animal welfare standards all over Greece. For me it’s the right way forward and I definitely felt it was something I wanted to support. 

But, what to do..

As an artist, I felt I could use my work to create a sculpture that would be exclusive to GAWF. The subject matter seemed perfect for my artistic style and having a wide range of animals that they help enabled me to choose those that complemented each other in the composition. So, the donkey, dog, cat and chicken became the stars of the piece. I also wanted to capture some of the unity those animals have in their desires for a good life and something to which we all could relate. Who hasn't looked up at the stars and wondered, hoped and reflected? And thus the name 'stargazing', the subject and the composition were created. 

In practical terms my artwork is time consuming and process intensive. The original characters are sculpted in clay, and then moulds are made, then cast in plaster and then cast in Pewter. Finally everything is cleaned, polished, patinated, lacquered and fixed. For this piece I was lucky enough to get some recycled wood taken during the repair of Brighton Pier and this wood has formed the base. 

I have only made three pieces - so it’s an extremely limited edition - in the hope that this adds extra value and interest. One of the pieces will be featured in a silent auction at GAWF's stand at Vegfest in Brighton – March 28th and 29th. Whether you are an art lover, an animal lover or both, I would hope you might consider bidding and in doing so helping GAWF continue their invaluable work. Damian Harrison

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

How we Greeks love a good conspiracy..! by Anna Stamatiou, Trustee

Once again stories have surfaced in the Greek media about fake “so-called animal welfare organisations” that are supposedly conspiring to sell stray dogs.  The public is being asked to believe that canine victims are being picked up (“stolen”) from all over Greece and sold en masse to wicked foreigners who, masquerading as adopters, are in fact planning to use the dogs for a number of dastardly and criminal purposes… the fur trade, drugs testing, the cosmetics industry, the arms industry… even to turn them into sausage meat!  Anonymous allegations of “dog trafficking” are again being made to the Ministry of Agricultural Development together with dark assertions of enormous profits being made and tax evasion being cilitated.  

Laughable, right?  Wrong.  For some reason, and in spite of a lack of any compelling evidence, the authorities give a level of credence to these wild accusations, which seem to surface from time to time.  As a result, bona fide welfare groups trying to send Greek strays abroad for adoption keep getting stopped at ports and airports.  The dogs are confiscated and well-intentioned people are accused of offences.

Why are the conspiracy theorists given any credence at all?  The reasons are quite complex…
Many Greek shelters are desperately overcrowded. Greece’s no kill policy means there is an immense oversupply of dogs.  In order to make space for new arrivals some shelters have taken to working with organisations abroad (typically welfare groups in Germany, Holland or Belgium that have provided funding and support in the past).  Many of the overseas shelters have a good record of success in rehoming dogs, while finding new homes for strays in Greece is very hard indeed.
Because it takes time, effort and money to organise for dogs to be transported overseas, it makes sense to send out a group of dogs together, rather than individually – spreading the cost.   This can look like “trading” and it makes some people suspicious.  Why, they ask themselves, would anyone go to this much trouble and expense if there was no profit to be made?  And look, the senders are accepting money from the foreign organisation, so obviously they must be selling the dogs!  The idea that a foreign welfare group might have a completely legitimate interest in financially supporting the work of a struggling Greek shelter doesn’t seem remotely credible to some people.  They look for a darker interpretation of the facts.

It is true that in many cases money does change hands.  A Belgian shelter may, for example, be donating funds to a Greek one to help it operate; it may have agreed to cover transportation costs; it may also be charging adopter families for taking a dog once it gets to Belgium – this is a fairly widespread way of responsibly making sure the adopters are really committed to the animal they are taking on.  Even though the Greek “senders” have files stuffed with images of happily rehomed animals, those with a suspicious turn of mind see these actions as proof that commercial transactions are taking place.  

Finally, Greek lawmakers, in their wisdom, decided that a dog can only be sent abroad to a named and fully identified person.  So sending a group of animals that have yet to be paired up with new owners, even though all concerned have every intention of finding the animals a “loving forever home” abroad is, in fact, not allowed.  Some Greek shelters have tried to get round this in various ways but fundamentally, although it makes sense to cooperate with established overseas welfare groups and not only with individuals, they are acting against the regulations when they do this. 

GAWF/Animal Action has not been supportive of “exporting” the Greek stray dog problem in the past, and this remains our policy.  We believe that the expense involved does not constitute effective use of the resources our supporters donate, and more important, we also believe that Greek society needs to recognise that it has a responsibility to its stray dog populations, which it has an obligation to fulfil itself – from within its own resources.  Export is a sticking plaster, not a long-term solution.



Monday, 2 February 2015

All by myself (don’t wanna be) all by myself anymore. By Anna Stamatiou - GAWF/Animal Action trustee

On an evening in late January we took a call from a friend, Clairi, whom we have got to know through repeated meetings on Philopappos Hill, Central Athens, where the whole neighbourhood walks its dogs.  She knows we have experience of English bull terriers (we’re on no.5 at the moment, having owned one continuously for over 30 years) so when she found she had a large bull-terrier-shaped problem… who was she gonna call? 

It seems a large dog had been hanging around outside all day, barking and creating havoc, chasing cats and not allowing her out of her house with her two small dogs.  Clairi was at her wits’ end.  My husband rushed over to see what was going on and found the dog in the photo outside her house.  Having no fear of any dog – particularly not bull terriers – Andreas soon made friends with the strong and boisterous dog who appears to be about 3 years old.  He also called the Athens Stray Dog Team, which is a service of the Borough of Central Athens.  The Team was responsive and sympathetic and said it would do its best to send someone round soon, so Andreas and Clairi waited.  Instead of the expected van, a man on a motorbike appeared apologising that there is currently no money for petrol for the Team’s van – an indication of the current state of the Greek economy.

On the previous day, the Team had taken a call from an owner asking if a bull terrier could be taken off his hands as he couldn’t cope with it any longer.  The Team said, no.  We don’t do that.  Putting two and two together, everyone assumed this must be the dog in question. 

It is against the law in Greece to abandon an animal.  It is also against the law to put a healthy dog to sleep.  Given the owner’s apparent unwillingness or perhaps his inability to continue to care for this strong dog – which has clearly developed some bad habits and needs knowledgeable and consistent management – it seems likely that the owner took the only course he saw as still open to him: abandonment. 

Andreas asked what would now become of the dog, and was told that if the owner couldn’t be traced he would be neutered and then most likely LEFT OUT ON THE STREET WHERE HE WAS FOUND. 
Two days on from these events, and we have heard that the dog’s owner has been identified and was indeed the person who had initially contacted the Stray Dog Team.  The dog is now up for adoption but it’s by no means certain that a new owner will be found.  He could still end up on the street.

In the face of chronic lack of funding and political will, Greece’s capital has severely limited facilities for housing stray dogs.  If a dog is healthy it can’t be put to sleep, so this is how the Borough of Central Athens manages the problem.  In this case, the owner was found.  But if, as so many are, the dog was returned to the street – effectively abandoned for a second time – this powerful animal would almost certainly have gone on to present a challenge to the neighbourhood’s cats, dogs… and people.  He would do what he must to survive… defend his patch, compete for his food and generally use his considerable strength and bull-terrier determination in whatever way he sees fit.  If he caused trouble, the local welfare group would probably do what it usually does… attempt to prevent the Stray Dog Team from doing its job (i.e. picking him up and keeping him in a pound for the rest of his natural life).  Current policy drives a wedge between the efforts of local welfare communities and municipalities all over the country.

Greece has a new, radical government.  Perhaps it will be persuaded to take a new and radical approach to the stray management issue.  But I, for one, am not holding my breath.