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.