I like animals. Especially cats. The site of a stray cat evokes strong wishes to pet, feed and water them and if I had my will, humans would be totally outnumbered by cats in our household.
But when you travel to Southern Europe (or, in fact, many countries around the Mediterranean Sea), you will find many stray animals, usually cats and dogs, looking at you with those big hungry eyes. I always feel so sorry for them, and I wish I could do something there and then, but in fact, you can do something by choosing your destination wisely and by highlighting your concerns to local businesses and complain to the Greek Tourism Authority. Don’t get me wrong, many Greeks, among them some friends of mine, love animals, and have pets that are ex-strays, but Greece keeps coming up in many “Worst places for animal welfare” lists here, or here. Unfortunately, animal protection in Greece, although they should adhere to European Union Laws, is not really in line with countries like the UK or Germany. The next problem is although animal protection laws exist, they are not always adhered to, or people turn a blind eye. However, the number of reported cases of animal cruelty is very high in Greece. To make things worse, spaying/ neutering is very uncommon (across Southern Europe, really), not readily available and therefore rarely done, although animal protection organisations do of course do their best to neuter, but often lack funding.
So, on my last trip to Greece, there were many stray cats in Aegina, fewer in Athens. At first, who can resist giving a piece of leftover fish to s little kitty at a restaurant table? Fact is, the locals hate it. And in Aegina, I thought stray cats were just tolerated. Then we noticed that there were feeding places for animals, and someone had put large pots of water out for them. So, when we passed a group of hungry cats diving in the bins, we bought some dry cat food and fed them. The bag of cat food became an important item in my bag. Of course, the problem is that cats (and dogs) are allowed to multiply uncontrolled due to lack of neutering, so this will not stop until more animals are neutered. When stopping one evening to feed some cats by the bins outside our hotel, we met a British lady who goes round town every day to feed stray cats who told us that cats are often poisoned, and I have heard reports from other places where animals are routinely poisoned, especially at the end of the tourist season.
So, where could you go in Greece where animals are treated differently? Firstly, the care of stray animals lies with the local authorities, and they often don’t have the cash to care for the animals let alone have them neutered. However, there are communities that do this differently, and here are some that I have found:
- Paros (Kyklades, Aegean): This large island appears exemplary in that it has a well-organised neutering and feeding programme run mostly by a large charity (Paros Animal Welfare Society) and with Animal Welfare Paros, it has a second animal welfare organisation.
- Kefalonia (Ionian Islands): There is a large (private) animal shelter called Animal Rescue Kefalonia on land provided by the local authority that cooperates with the local authority and is supported by a number of Austrian and German animal charities.
That’s not a lot of places. Anywhere else?
Actually, many islands such as Aegina, Skiathos, Crete, Kos and many places on the mainland have shelters. A lot of reports on mistreatment of animals appear to come from Crete and Rhodos, so before you pick a place, perhaps do some research online and see whether there is a shelter where you can visit, perhaps walk a dog, bring some donations and just make others aware that these shelters exist and that you are going to support them.
Some general advice:
- If you spot seemingly stray animals at your hotel/in a restaurant, ask about them and ask if anything is done about their welfare.
- I wouldn’t eat or buy in a place where animals are kicked or hit or otherwise treated badly. I am finding this difficult to judge sometimes. However, I have come across places that keep some well-fed cats or dogs, and I am much more likely to patronize these.
- Don’t feed stray animals form restaurant tables. I think business owners absolutely hate it, it may annoy other customers who do not have the animal-loving streak, and may lead to more animals coming to beg and to animals being destroyed.
- Check before you travel whether there is a local shelter and visit if you can, take some donation of food, bedding or cash, and maybe help out for a few hours.
- If you want to feed hungry animals, buy some dry food locally and fed them away from the hotel/restaurant. Try to give them water at the same time. Bear in mind they will be left fending for themselves once the tourist season ends.
- If you see an injured animal, ask at your hotel for the nearest animal rescue and inform them, or if you can, take them to the vet, but be aware you will need to pay all costs.
- Bringing an animal home: is generally not recommended by many animal welfare organisations, but possible, especially within the EU. First, be sure that the animal does not belong to anyone. Generally, animals must be checked, vaccinated and issued with a pet passport. So you will need a vet. Check with your airline if it takes animals. Pets can be transported in the cabin (tends to be safer) and in the hold (must be considered for larger animals) and of course their flights must be booked. Here is a list of some airlines’ pet travel policy, and a really useful guide is also on Officialpethotels, but it is probably best to check directly with the airline, and also book the animal on the flight. At present, Lufthansa and Germanwings, KLM, Air France, Austrian Airlines and Vueling, among others, carry pets in the cabin.
- Last not least: Look at home whether any animal welfare organisations nearby has co-operations with Greece (or other countries), become a member, donate or help out. Or consider donating to the Greek Animal Welfare Fund which runs neutering programmes all over the country where vets are not easily accessible. In some Northern European countries, private shelters work with Greek or Spanish, sometimes Russian animal protection organisations and regularly have animals for adoption.
I am no stranger to this: I adopted my ex-stray cat Leia from a shelter in London 15 years ago. After she died at the grand old age of 19 earlier this year, I fell for Leia 2.0 while looking cats on an adoption site. I enquired about a cute blue point kitty, and as this one had already found a home, I was asked whether I could be interested in Leia, who just happened to live in Catalonia, had three kittens who had already found homes and was looking for her forever family! The picture showed a rather stern looking seal point Siamese with an “I own all this” look. We adopted without meeting her, relying on the reports from the organisation and the home check to see whether our home was suitable, and just two months after the initial enquiry we picked up Leia 2.0 in Hamburg. She flew in the cabin on a Germanwings flight from Barcelona with a lady who had been on holiday and had offered to bring a cat home. It’s a bit pot luck, and yes, this cat already has done a protest pee on the door mat after feeding her a worming tablet, but nothing in the world beats that feeling when her sweet face stares at you at 6am. Why a Spanish cat? I was already sponsoring a shelter cat there, and after hearing about the lack of funding and how adult cats rarely get adopted locally (and after falling in love with that cute chocolate face), it just felt right.
If you fly with a pet-compatible airline, you can also sign up to bring home a pet to their new family. In Germany, Flugpate is quite a popular site, and I wonder if this practice exists on other countries, especially as many airlines allow pets to travel?
Do you know other places care for animals in Greece, and do you take into consideration how animals are treated in the country you intend to visit? I’d be interested to hear your views – I was planning a trip to Crete but stories of animal abuse I heard and read about really has put me off for now.