Stray dogs in Greece

I was quite surprised in Greece at the welfare of the what-appeared-to-be stray dogs.  I say it that way because I assume they are stray dogs because of the way they lounge around out in public, however, they didn’t seem like stray dogs because never once did I see a dog beg for food and they seemed to be well kept.  In fact, at one point in the trip someone in our group offered a dog a piece of food because it was at our feet wanting attention and when she gave the dog the food he sniffed it, was displeased, and went on his way.  He almost seemed offended and pissed that she offered him the food and scurried away with what appeared to be an attitude.  I can’t remember exactly what she offered the dog but I would’ve guessed that any dog here in the States would have gladly chomped it down.

Stray dogs have always been a part of the
landscape in Greece, and specifically in
Athens.  Tom Mazarakis explains on his

I have been living in Greece for the last 33
years and am well acquainted with the
recently history of the dog situation in Athens
and the rest of Greece.

As in most civilized countries, in Greece too, every municipality had a “dog pound” and a “dog catcher”.  And, as in most cities throughout the world, many domesticated dogs in Greece would one way or another gain their “freedom” from their owners.  Either they would run away on their own, or they would be “let go” by irresponsible owners.  Whatever the case may have been, these stray dogs often would breed and have puppies and multiply accordingly.  The dog catchers in Greece used to step in and round up as many strays as they could.  The strays were held in the local municipal dog pounds for a period of  no more than 90 days, and if no one claimed the dogs, they were typically then put to sleep.

This system kept the stray dog population down to a manageable level up until about 10 years ago.  At about that time, a local animal rights activist group found out about a particular dog pound that kept their dogs in miserable and inhumane conditions.  They visited the pound and filmed the scene.  Then they took their evidence and presented it to the local District Attorney who in turn issued a warrant for the responsible mayor’s arrest.  That mayor was charged with the crime of “maltreatment of animals” which is a very serious offense in Greek law.  He was convicted and sentenced to several months in prison along with a stiff monetary fine.  As a result, almost every municipality in Greece dissolved their dog pounds and fired their dog catchers.

As you can understand, this paved the way for the stray dogs to multiply without restriction, and today they have become a serious problem.  Many people, and especially children, have been attacked and mauled by gangs of wild dogs.  But, no one takes responsibility.  The local Humane Society has been making every effort it can to feed and take care of as many stray dogs as they can handle, but their numbers keep growing.  They try to neuter as many of the dogs as they can, but they just can’t seem to put even a small dent into the problem.”

With the Olympics being held in Athens in August 2004, the government felt they needed to do something so that they could have a clean image.  The dogs are not a problem because they will chase or bite you (they don’t), but rather it is simply an image problem.  In August 2003, over 3,000 stray dogs were killed in the streets and there’s speculation that the government was behind this.  Poisoning of stray dogs has happened before, but never this many in such a small amount of time.  Because the media picked up on this happening, in October of 2003, Athens announced that they would collect, sterilize, and then release more than 10,000 dogs before the Games.

GREECE: October 6, 2003 ATHENS – Athens, host of the 2004 Olympics, launched a plan last week to sterilize more than 10,000 stray dogs ahead of the Games in measures condemned by animal rights groups as ill thought-out and insufficient. The city said the 1.8 million euro project, to be officially unveiled on the weekend, will halt the growth of a huge population of stray dogs roaming the streets of the capital before the start of the Olympics. “The sight of thousands of stray animals living without care in the city streets constitutes an insult to us as civilized people,” Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyanni, who plans to give 20 strays up for adoption on the weekend, said in a statement. The project, co-funded by the city and the government, aims to collect, sterilize and tag the dogs, before releasing them again. Two mobile vet units will monitor their health. But animal rights groups say the plan does not cover the needs of strays. “This cannot be just a one-day event with some promises and cute puppies as gifts,” Marianna Polichroniadou, head of a newly-founded animal rights group said this week. “It has to be followed up with actions that safeguard the dog’s survival long-term and this plan doesn’t cut it.”

Another reason I wasn’t quite sure if the dogs were strays was because they all had collars on.  I figured someone must have been caring for the dogs, but there was a dog or two here and there and they were all well fed and had on collars so why would so many people allow their dogs to roam freely?  It turns out that as part of the measure to catch, fix, and release the dogs, the authorities put blue and red (blue for male, red for female) collars on the dogs so that they could distinguish between which ones had gone through the process and which ones hadn’t.

Aside from the dogs not being pests whatsoever, most of them seemed very clever as well.  I think that by being fixed, they were less hormone driven and most of them seemed friendly and playful.  From one website where I found some information the writer’s mom had this to say, and I can validate it by having witnessed this myself on several occasions:

The downtown dogs are pretty well behaved. Many are streetwise, literally. My mother was curious as to how they could cross some of the big Athens avenues so she watched them. She discovered that the dogs would go to the pedestrian crossings and stand there. No they did not know that the little green man meant it was OK for them to cross. They would wait until some humans came and then cross with them.


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