About Animal Welware & The Charity Animal Protection Aegina & Agistri
Text by Souzana Raphael based on a interview in 2011 with Vivi Iakovidis
It is with a sad heart that I sit down to write this article, after running into a friend just yesterday in Aegina town who told me of finding six dead cats upon return to her country home a day or so ago. The cats died of poison, and police will be visiting the nearest neighbours to question them. Having lost one of my own beloved cats last spring to rat poison, I know what she must be feeling, though she had greeted me with a smile before telling me this news. She has lost other much loved animals to poisons, and perhaps her smile comes from the need to not let these things destroy her.
When I first came to Aegina 4 ½ years ago, I fed two stray dogs for perhaps a full year - dogs that had been roaming the neighbourhood in search of food. There was a small black bitch and a big golden-haired male, who came to my home for food. These two were inseparable, and would lie in the sun near my house before leaving again, to return the next day. The male finally let me pet him - this, after many months of backing away whenever I came within six feet of him. Both of these dogs finally vanished, and there is no doubt in my mind that poison, gunshots or cars finished them off.
I also found four kittens one day in a cardboard box on the ground next to a trash bin, two of them dead, with the other two walking on top of them. Someone had simply left them in that box to die of hunger and thirst, not wanting to keep them or find someone who wanted them. I had suffered during my years of living on Naxos island from seeing dogs kept on short chains, and had also fed and loved cats which vanished suddenly and were never seen again.
I read about the animal welfare groups that had sprung up all over Greece to deal with the overwhelming problem of dumped puppies and kittens, animals poisoned (sometimes en masse, as in the National Gardens in Athens), and other abuses which I won't list here. I had friends who rescued abandoned animals for the new animal welfare group in Naxos
(NAWS), which was formed some years after the organization in Paros, called (PAWS - Paros Animal Welfare Society
), and I had animals sterilized with the help of these organizations.
I learned too that though Greek law stipulates that municipalities have the responsibility for setting up dog shelters, catching strays and taking them there, sterilizing, inoculating, micro-chipping and then re-releasing them, this law is not observed and enforced. Instead, associations organized and staffed by volunteers (with a large proportion of non-Greeks involved in both), are doing these things, supported only by donations and fund-raising events.
Such is the case in Aegina, with Animal Protection Aegina Agistri
, which follows upon earlier efforts that began more than a decade ago. When Mrs. Vivi I
akovidis (Animal Protection Secretary responsible for running the dog shelter) began coming and going from Athens, she became a member of a group called FAZA, which sheltered stray dogs in the massive stone building in Aegina town known as Filakes (jail), which was previously both a prison and orphanage. FAZA was established with two English women and later had a Greek chairman, it was a registered charity but very limited by lack of funds for vaccination, medical care for the animals, etc.
In 2001 the shelter was moved to a remote location on the island, on land bought by an old woman, the organization still known at that time as FAZA. The present-day shelter, which I visited recently (September, 2011) is a far cry from the contaminated, crowded shelter at the former prison which Vivi had described to me. I was amazed to hear that not one Aegina mayor during the entire decade of the present shelter's existence has bothered to go there and see the work that is being carried out there - and entirely by a charity organization - work that is required by law of every municipality in Greece!!
The cost of licensing and building this shelter, the food, medicine and labor involved in housing 120 plus dogs (including 2-day old puppies dumped outside the gates during the night) has all been provided by donation and fund-raising activities. Living conditions for the animals are impressive, with dog-houses in each of the roofed areas, each open to an adjacent outdoor space to run and play in (all fenced). These lodgings are cleaned daily, the dogs are provided with good food and fresh water, medical attention and affection from those tending to them (many of them volunteers), and the dogs are walked as often as possible. All of the puppies who are siblings are housed together, and many of the larger dogs share their quarters with one or two other dogs.
Along with local adoption of animals, Animal Protection Aegina Agistri has a programme for rehoming (adoption) of dogs in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, and England, with a network of "checkers" in each country (all volunteers) who investigate the prospective new homes for the dogs (which is also part of the local adoption process). Such programmes are being successfully carried out by various animal welfare organizations all over Greece, though some have been attacked by Greeks who accuse them of selling animals to medical labs for experimentation and who have sent the police to interrupt the transport of these animals. It seems that there is resentment on the part of many Greeks concerning the sending of animals abroad, though these animals have often been found in appalling conditions in Greece, which does not enforce its own animal welfare laws, and where there is widespread distrust of sterilization programs as a solution.
On the island of Agistri, Wendy, a woman in her sixties has been named Woman of the Year due to her valiant efforts on behalf of strays over many years, including her bringing sick animals to neighboring Aegina for veterinary care. Vivi told me that during the recent Fistiki Festival in Aegina, local people typically walked right by the Animal Protection booth and looked away as they did so. "People call us up on the phone and say 'Come take my dog!!' , but they walk right by our booth, and give us no support whatsoever."
There is a school programme in the works, with visits by Vivi and volunteers to the public schools, and visits to the shelter by the children in hope of teaching kindness towards animals to the younger generation. No child visiting this admirable facility could fail to see that dogs (when not fearful of humans, which makes them defensively aggressive) are friendly, intelligent and affectionate beings.
Vivi asked me to make the very important point that is only via sterilization/ neutering of animals will the population of unwanted animals be reduced. This does not mean just strays, because many of those puppies and kittens born to your pets (and their countless descendants) end up being just that! You may give the offspring of your pet to someone, but if the offspring are not then sterilized (as well as the mother), there will be a geometric increase of animals that no one wants and which end up in trash bins, in the sea, on the streets, etc.
Many Greeks seem to believe that sterilization is unnatural and cruel, but fail to see that the alternative is far worse. If one does the simple math, one can see right away that there are not enough homes for all the offspring of unsterilized animals if allowed to breed continuously. Though one sees stray cats and dogs that seem "all right", and which seem to find enough food to live, what one does not see are the much greater number that die of disease and from all of the dangers already listed above - from humans who don't love animals and who see them only as pests.
As to Greek fears that neutered animals will be miserable without a 'normal sex life', I have neutered all of my animals over a period of decades and they have all been happy and healthy (and the males don't run off and get abscesses from fights with other males, or get hit by cars while engaging in their amours). So let us all promote wide support for neutering programs. Animal Protection Aegina Agistri has an ongoing neutering programme for dogs and cats (see information on the right). We can also pressure the local municipality to start doing what it is legally supposed to be doing. I just phoned up the mayor's office and will ask him why he has never visited the dog shelter on the island and what he intends to do about enforcing Greek law.
About Animal Protection Aegina & Agistri - text by Animal Protection as published on their flyer
What have you done for a stray today - article written by Elizabeth Koubena
Aegina & Agistri flyer
Animal Protection Aegina & Agistri poster