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.

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