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Athens ‘should stop poisoning strays’

AS HOSTS to the Olympic Games this year, Greece should clean up its own act rather than try to clean the streets of stray dogs, according to a top British journalist.

Writing in The Times recently under the heading ‘Relaxed To The Point Of Neglect’, journalist Penny Wark says bluntly: "Every time Greece wants the streets of Athens to look tidy someone thinks the solution is to poison its stray dogs and cats."

Wark continues: "Anyone who has been to Greece will be familiar with the stray dogs and cats that roam the streets….Two years ago I attempted to help one such starved and maltreated dog that was tethered to a bush by a few feet of wire on wasteland. A volunteer from an animal welfare organisation contacted the owner and removed the dog for urgent veterinary treatment. She began to recover, and for a few months she led a happy life in which she was well treated and loved."

Wark reveals that she has kept in touch with animal welfare groups working in Greece since then and followed their progress as they try – often under very difficult conditions - to work with the authorities to neuter and microchip stray animals, and to persuade the Greek people to take their animals’ welfare seriously.

Thankfully there has been progress, as Wark reports: "Last year the Greek Parliament passed a new law which requires pet owners to register and identify their animals. There are now harsh penalties for those who mistreat and abandon animals, and local councils are required to organise neutering, vaccination, microchipping and the re-release of strays. There is even funding for educational campaigns on responsible pet ownership."

However, in practice, the new law is not enforced. There is no national database for the registration of animals. "The conventional Greek method of controlling stray populations of animals is to use poison, and every animal welfare worker I speak to knows of a recent incidence of this: 30 deaths here, 60 there," says Wark. "Whenever a stray population is regarded as too big, or whenever Greece hosts an EU meeting and wants the streets of Athens to look tidy, someone seems to think that the solution is to put down poison and look the other way as scores of cats and dogs die in agony."

Wark’s hard-hitting article goes on to cite what amounts to a "resistance movement" to animal welfare work in Greece. Welfare workers who have rescued dogs and cats and arranged for them to be re-homed with caring owners in other European countries are being accused of illegally transporting stray animals for profit: it is said that strays are being taken to vivisection laboratories or skinned for their fur.

There is no evidence of this, yet as a result of these allegations some vets who have worked with rescued animals are now refusing to complete the paperwork that would give the strays new homes.

Penny Wark concludes grimly: "Many Greek people are said to be outraged by this so-called scandal. If they really care about animals the solution is simple: to turn a kind eye on those filling their streets. The solution is in their own hands."

‘Relaxed To The Point Of Neglect’ © by Penny Wark appeared in The Times newspaper on April 14th 2004.