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.