DESPITE ASSURANCES to the contrary, the Greek authorities have begun their systematic campaign of poisoning thousands of stray dogs in the nation’s capital Athens, ahead of the next month’s Olympic Games, in a bid to ‘clean up ’the city.
As reported previously, the strays were earmarked for destruction because the Greek authorities fear that the sight of packs of dogs roaming the streets will damage their efforts to use the Games to show the world that their country is modern and civilised.
There are an estimated 15,000 stray dogs in Athens and although the Greek Government has taken some action to remove them from the streets without killing them, the UK-based RSPCA says that local authorities will not have the resources or the commitment to round up the animals and keep them in shelters during the Games.
Officially, the Greek authorities say that there will be no mass poisoning and the Athens Olympics Committee has asked animal welfare groups to help round up the dogs. The organisers are ready to adopt a far-reaching programme of ‘impounding’ the dogs, although animal welfare groups say the term ‘poisoning’ is far more accurate.
Activists cite, as evidence of an extreme approach by the organisers, some 80 dead dogs found recently in the coastal resort of Saronida, where members of the Great Britain team are expected to stay. "There’s been a big increase in poisonings," one animal welfare spokesman said, "and we expect it to rise sharply."
There are however, only one or two shelters in Athens that can take dogs and they are already overcrowded, so the Greeks face a choice of leaving the dogs roaming the streets during the Olympics or poisoning them.
The animal welfare spokesman added: "We are doing what we can, with a lot of help from international organisations such as the RSPCA, but we are fighting against a culture that is deeply entrenched." The RSPCA has campaigned hard to improve animal welfare in Greece and in particular to end the practice of poisoning strays to control their numbers.
The Greek government has expressed a desire to give more protection to animals and introduced tougher laws last year. Antonia Kanellopoulou, the deputy mayor of Athens, said: "Stray animals need our love." Campaigners feel that the cull must obviously be a form of ‘tough love’.
The legislation has, however, had little effect and the RSPCA says that many local authorities in Athens and other areas hosting Olympic events will use the traditional method of poisoning the animals to clear the streets before the Games begin on August 13.
David Bowles of RSPCA International, who recently returned from Athens where RSPCA inspectors were training Greek officials to catch and treat strays humanely, said: "We are seriously concerned that thousands of dogs will be poisoned so that Greece can show that Athens is a pristine modern city. They don't have the manpower or the shelters to round up all the dogs. A lot of the local authorities simply don't know how to deal with dogs humanely."
Mr Bowles was frank in his assessment of whether the RSPCA’s ‘education’ of the Greek authorities would help relieve the problem. "We have put a lot of effort into helping them to change their ways, but the results have been very patchy. We would like to see them using private shelters so that all the dogs can be given homes during the Olympics but it looks like that is not going to happen."
An official at the Greek embassy in London said: "Greece takes animal welfare seriously and our government has taken measures to improve our standards."