Friday, 15 July 2016

Clare's stay in Greece 2016- Part 4

GAWF blog 14th July 2016

I visited a couple, Ray and Lorna, who live in the south of the island.  I’d met them last year through my Greek language teacher and it was good to see them again and catch up with their life on the island.  They immerse themselves in the local community including working as a volunteer for the local cat charity.  They are very aware of the animal welfare issues in Greece and care very much about the animals, so it’s good to be able to talk to them about it and my work with GAWF.

It is fairly obvious from my dealings with the family of the dog that attacked Poppy that they won’t do anything different to ensure that the dog can’t attack again.  It was running loose one day in the port and tried to attack my friend, Hayley’s dog and she managed to repel it by kicking out at it.  I also heard a few days later that it attacked another female dog, too.  They still insist to me and everyone else that it’s a friendly dog and gets on well with other dogs.  I’m sure there will have been other incidents too, as there are many more dogs in the area whose owners I don’t know and therefore wouldn’t have heard of those attacks.

I continued to go out with the dogs, choosing areas I hoped it wouldn’t be roaming, and armed myself with the citronella spray, the bottle of stones, the water and in addition and a loud whistle that my friend brought out with her from England.  The whistle sounded like a fog horn but never mind, it was a loud noise!!  But it’s hard to relax fully.

It makes me concerned about going back again next year.  It seems such a shame that the island is so beautiful and offers everything I need and yet there is this worry hanging over me simply because people are too selfish to take steps to deal with the problem.  I spoke to Gaby, Dexter’s foster mother from the island of Aegina where Dexter comes from, and she said I should have taken photographs of the wounds and taken them to the police.  She said they would have gone to the owner and spoke to them which she said usually resolves the problem.  However, I didn’t take photos and therefore this option isn’t possible.  I also spoke to a British girl who lives and works on the island.  She said she usually carried a stick with her when walking her dogs. 

I didn’t come across any animal welfare cases whilst I was here, and of course was relieved about this.  Even finding the injured sparrow last year caused me a lot of anxiety not to mention nearly a day taken up in trying to rehabilitate it.  The north of the island is generally better than the south with regard to animal welfare, perhaps simply because it’s less populated but also many of the people there seem to be educated with regard to animals’ needs, so this is a blessing.

My last friend came and went.  She too loved the island and wants to go back with her family one day.  Very soon after she leaves, it’s time to leave this beautiful place.  With a heavy heart, I pack up eight weeks’ of belongings into the car and we set off on the 4 day journey back to the UK.  I’ve tried to improve my Greek whilst here (and think I’ve succeeded a little) but Stamatis in the local mini-market said to me with a smile ‘I hope when you return next year your Greek will be better!’  I replied ‘so do I’!

Goodbye Kefalonia, I hope to be back next year.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Clare's stay in Greece 2016- Part 3

GAWF blog 21st June 2016

The weather is now proper ‘summer weather’ with day time temperatures around 30 degrees and evenings so warm and comfortable.

We’ve been to our friend Hayley’s house several times for play dates with her dogs.  They fly around the garden after each other, always with Dexter in the lead, saying ‘Catch me, catch me!’ It’s like watching a game of rugby, the aim being for Dexter to dodge each of Hayley’s three dogs as he makes his way from one side of the garden to the other, before he gets ‘tackled’.  It’s great to watch and to see them use all that energy. Poppy just stands on the side line, barking with excitement, or is she telling them off?  I’m never quite sure.

My friend Sarah arrived and we spent four days relaxing at the house, walking the dogs, taking them in the sea (neither too keen, but I do believe they appreciate feeling cool for at least half an hour after), chatting and enjoying the fantastic Kefalonian cuisine.  One of my favourite tavernas is Acqua at tiny Alaties beach.  It’s a basic seaside taverna, but with the best sunset view and a peach bellini to die for.  We agree being here is close to paradise.

I’ve noticed several dogs on chains as usual, although none on short chains, which I’m relieved about.  They all seem to have a good 20 foot circumference to move around in and so they are able to go in the shade if they need to.  I still don’t like to see it, but it’s better than being horribly restricted like I’ve seen so many times.   The law now says that it’s illegal to keep a dog chained up 24 hours a day.  I think it would take a caring neighbour or tourist to take note if this was the case and report it to the police.  Of course the owner could say that it has been let off the chain at some point in the day but there will never be any proof.  But at least a visit from the police reminding them of the legal position may prompt them to do something about it.  I understood from my visit to the rescue centre last year that the police actively get involved in animal welfare issues and this is so reassuring to hear.

The day Sarah flew home from Kefalonia airport, we visited ARK (Animal Rescue Kefalonia) on our way to the airport.  We had the rugs and blankets I’d brought with me in the car and we stopped off to buy some big bags of dog food for them.  The noise of the dogs barking when you arrive is deafening.  We saw Marina the lady who runs the rescue centre and talked to her about what is happening there.  They currently have 360 dogs which is a similar number to last year.  She said the adoption rate is good (and I see the posts on Facebook about the adoptions) but of course dogs are arriving or being rescued and brought in at around the same rate, so the numbers don’t change much.  Marina and her Dutch volunteer, Joyce, talked about the police and how they are getting involved in investigations and prosecutions which is so good to hear.

As always, Marina asked if I would like to take one, but I know I can’t manage more than two dogs.  One day, when the inevitable happens with Poppy (who celebrated her 11th birthday two weeks ago) I will take on another Greek rescue at that point.  But now is not the right time.

My friend Sarah knows she will adopt a dog when the time is right for her (she already has one, plus a daughter and a thriving business) and she knows she will come to ARK when the time comes.

We saw Winston, a lovely little hunting dog, who had been severely abused and thankfully rescued by ARK last summer when I was here on the island.  He had been set alight by a local man with severe mental disabilities (and who is now in a mental institution or a prison, I am not sure which).  He still bears the physical scars on his back but he is so happy to see you and wags his tail like mad.  It’s very emotional to watch him and to know what he’s been through in his short life.  I feel so relieved that there are charities like ARK who are there to look after and protect these poor souls.  I wonder why he hasn’t been adopted, but I know that personally if he belonged to me, I might find it very hard to be reminded of what he went through every time I saw him and his scars.  And so I wonder if this is the reason.

After many tears and goodbyes, we left the centre and headed to the airport.  The next few days will be spent doing some work after a break of a few days and awaiting my next (and last) friend to arrive next week.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Clare's stay in Greece 2016- Part 2

I’m loving my time here on Kefalonia.  Once again, I don’t ever feel lonely and have been bumping into Greek friends who I met last year.  The resident population is very low, so the only people you see are people who you know or remember from last year!  Nothing changes very much, but I like that.

Claire, the owner from my rental house last year, Stamatis from the local mini-market, Nikos and Christiana and their lovely family at the local taverna, Tattiana the excellent Russian seamstress and other taverna owners.  They all remember me, but suspect it’s the two dogs they actually remember.  And of course, dogs on leads are quite noticeable here as there aren’t many on leads!

I had a visit from my friend Astrid from the neighbouring island of Ithaki for the day one day.  She adopted Dexter when he was 11 months old.  Unfortunately, Dexter couldn’t cope with the presence of her husband, which is the point when the rescue centre really understood how bad his fear of men was.  Their house, although beautiful and remote, is small and I suspect that the physical closeness of Frank didn’t help matters.  After a month or so, they reluctantly had to return him to the rescue centre on Aegina.  By this time, they had fallen in love with him, so it was a hard decision for both of them.  But Dexter was clearly stressed and they felt that it wasn’t good for his wellbeing or his recovery from his past.  At that point, he went to stay with Gaby who works with the rescue centre in Aegina, in her foster home.  Here he was happy, playing with his 15 house mates all day and loved by Gaby.  After a period of some 9 months, I came along and adopted him and the rest is history.  Although he’s still nervous of men, he is greatly improved from three years ago when he arrived.  Every man he’s met since has treated him well, so his trust is slowly growing.  Dogs are not that different to humans in many ways!

My friend Teresa from the UK arrived and we had four days together, celebrating both our birthdays and enjoying the weather and good food.  The day after she left, I was walking Poppy and Dexter in the woods near the bay in Fiskardo, when Poppy was attacked by a dog which was being walked by its owner’s parents.  As anyone who’s dog has been attacked knows, it’s a truly awful thing to witness.  The husband reacted quickly and pulled the dog off and was very responsive to what had happened and offered to pay any necessary vet’s bills.  Poppy was extremely shaken up, her eyes bulging with fear and shaking all over but there were no obvious wounds to see.  We agreed that they would go ahead on the walk and with confirmation from the husband that they would finish the walk on the lead, we turned the corner, to see the dog off the lead.  She saw Poppy and attacked her once again.  I was astounded at the stupidity and apparent lack of care they displayed by doing this. 

The next day, when Poppy allowed me to examine her carefully (she growled that night when I tried to look, so obviously was in pain), I saw several small bite wounds.  After much research on the internet, it was clear that any sort of bit wound can result in infection, so I did the one hour drive to the nearest vet in Sami.  She was given an antibiotic injection and some painkillers.  The bill was 20 euros (always cheap in Greece).  I wonder if the low price is partly due to vets keeping prices as low as possible to encourage Greek people to use them to treat their animals. With the Greek economy as it is, a lot of people have even less money than they did before, so high vets bills would often be out of the question.

She is recovering well, though very clingy for a few days.  I have become nervous of walking the dogs and realise that dogs here are often free to roam on their own from their homes, and whilst most of them are well-behaved dogs, I’m aware of two or three which are not and I am making sure that I avoid those areas.  The attitude from dog owners in Greece is generally less responsible than it is in the UK (although many people are very responsible), and this does not help the anxiety around dog attacks.  However, I’ve now armed myself with an arsenal of weaponry; stones in a water bottle for shaking and making a loud noise, water for throwing over a dog and citronella spray to spray at a dog if necessary.

My next visitor is my friend Sarah, who arrives in a few days.  She gave me several blankets to bring with me in my car, to give to the animal rescue centre, ARK, in Argostoli, the capital of the island.  We’ll visit together and take the blankets, along with some of mine.  It’s hard to imagine in these temperatures, that they actually need blankets and anything to help keep the dogs warm in the winter, but they do!  A visit to the centre is always a stark reminder of the crisis for animals in Greece; dogs and cats abandoned by their owners (unwanted for various reasons), animals who need medical care rescued from the streets and animals rescued from abusive situations.  It will be good to visit again, and find out how some of the dogs we met last year have got on and which have been lucky enough to find themselves adopted by kind people and are in their ‘forever homes’.

I will be writing again next week, but in the meantime will continue with the daily routine of a beautiful walk along many of the walking trails, my work, reading in the sun and enjoying the excellent food. 

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Clare's stay in Greece 2016- Part 1

 So I knew when I was in Greece last year that I was going to come back again this year.  Six weeks had flown past so fast I decided to come for 8 weeks this time around (with the knowledge that if 8 weeks went too fast there was always an option for ten weeks in 2017!).

I had managed to find a house to rent, this time through an British travel company.  I made the booking soon after getting home last year, to make sure I was able to secure the time period I wanted.  The owner was happy for the dogs to stay in the house with me as long as they didn’t go in the pool (no concerns there as both Poppy and Dexter need an extraordinary amount of encouragement to go anywhere near water).

The last few weeks before leaving home were similarly crazy, finishing the work that needed to be achieved in the UK before leaving and preparing everything for the trip.  But, finally the day dawned and I left home, again with the car loaded up like a packhorse and set off.  My journey was meticulously planned, again through the tunnel, France, Switzerland and then Italy, this time sailing from the port of Bari in southern Italy and then a short overnight crossing to Igoumenitsa in Greece.  From there a short two-hour drive (empty roads, quiet, beautiful scenery) down to the island of Lefkada, via a causeway, and then the shorter ferry crossing from there to Kefalonia.  I needed to drive an average of 450 miles a day to arrive on Kefalonia on Day Four.  A long drive but achievable over a day with just a few short stops for comfort.

I felt fairly confident that I wouldn’t encounter anything as upsetting as arriving in the port of Astakos on the Greek mainland last year and being told by a distraught German resident that around 20 dogs had been poisoned in the town just three days ago (readers who read last year’s blog may remember this part of my story).  I had been terrified that Poppy may have sniffed any left-over powder that apparently had been used to poison the poor animals, and sat on the ferry terrified that she may become ill with almost certainly no help to hand. 

However, my journey didn't start too well with a 3.5 hour delay at the Eurotunnel due to a broken down train in the tunnel!  Still, it was a beautiful day and we patiently sat on the grass and strolled around waiting to be called.  It meant arriving at the hotel in Nancy, France at 8 o’clock in the evening (not ideal) but we were there.  One day down – three to go!

On Day Three I drove 475 miles from Parma to the old port city of Bari, in the 'heel' of the boot of Italy, for my onward ferry journey to Greece.   However, this is the point where my journey took a turn for the worse.  I arrived at the ferry ticket office, parked outside and went in to pick up my tickets.  I came out and got back in the car to drive down the road to the port for the ferry and before the car's auto locking had kicked in, my passenger door was opened and a youth on a bike leant in and took my handbag from the passenger seat.  It happened so fast. I realised with horror in a matter of seconds that I had everything in there that I needed to get to Greece.... my passport, the dogs’ passports, my driving licence, credit cards, mobile phone, everything.  I knew my trip was over but also in that nano-second wondered how I would even get back to the UK.  The people in the ticket office tried to calm me down, but unbeknown to me one of the people who worked there had disappeared to the back streets to see if he could recover any of my belongings. 15 minutes after I'd been robbed, this wonderful man walked in cradling my belongings in his arms. The thief had dumped everything he didn't want or need.... the only things I didn't get back were my actual handbag and purse and the 30 euros in the purse.  EVERYTHING else was recovered... I am eternally grateful to this kind man who went looking for my belongings as I wouldn't have had the courage to go looking myself particularly with two dogs to take care of too. Despite getting everything back I needed to continue my trip I couldn't stop crying for hours for thinking of the violation itself and also for what could have happened but didn't. I knew I was very lucky. But it has taught me a lesson and I have pleaded with everyone I've spoken to since, to always manually lock their car doors as soon as they get in.... don't wait for the auto locking to engage.

Another bit of luck - he didn't want my Inspector Maigret novel either as that came back too, sodden from the rain. It's drying out in the sun now so will be able to read that too. So lucky.

My house here is beautiful, in a glorious setting, the island peaceful and crime-free.  I know this has helped to fade the memory of what happened and the vision of the arm reaching into my car to take my bag.

After about a week of being here, my friend Hayley arrived from England for the summer, accompanied by her good friend Christian who helped her on the journey from the UK with her three energetic dogs following recent surgery on her spine.

Her first challenge was to find a new home since her landlord of several years announced ‘no dogs allowed’ despite her previously having dogs there for the last few years.  At this late stage it was no mean feat to find somewhere for the whole summer especially with the Greek resistance to dogs living inside.  Hayley’s three dogs are all roadside rescues from Kefalonia but are now used to living in the lap of luxury, so leaving them outside was not an option!!  Luckily, through a friend of hers she managed to find a lovely little house nearby with an enclosed garden, complete with orange, apple, lemon, apricot, peach and fig trees. 

I was thrilled for her, and without further ado, we packed up her worldly belongings into our two cars and trundled off up the road to the new abode!

Aside from this, we've been settling in nicely. The days seems to follow a pattern of a leisurely start, walking the dogs, a few hours of my work on my laptop and then another walk late in the afternoon.  The dogs appear happy and have a large enclosed garden to mooch around in and temperatures are very comfortable at the moment (warm but not hot).  Dexter seems to like lying on a patch on warm earth, and always has done.  Perhaps it goes back to his days in the foster home in Aegina where he spent all day outside in the huge garden there.  Although it’s sometimes hard to spot him (see picture below!)  I had to really search for him on this particular day!
Dexter : ) 

I’ve also found a new walk which is absolutely beautiful.  It takes you from a small hamlet nearby, winding through a forest of oak, cypress and arbutus via a dry-stone walled path, to where the Germans built their battery in the 2nd World War and a huge vista of the open sea.  I felt like I was in an enchanted forest walking along the sun-dappled path.  Pure heaven.

I'm already dreading the day I have to leave this little bit of paradise.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Crash landings in Kasos - by Anna Stamatiou, Trustee

It has taken a long time for the small island of Kasos in the south-eastern Aegean to form a local welfare group.  It’s a tiny community.  There are only about 900 permanent residents after all, and many of them struggle with subsistence farming – scratching a living from arid and rocky ground that has been overgrazed and depleted down the years.  There are enough olive trees for the people to produce their own year’s supply of oil, while the sheep and goats (too many for the land to support naturally – thank you, EC subsidies) have to have their diet supplemented with bought-in feed corn. 

So it’s a tough place to live, and there is no inclination to sentimentality when it comes to animals and their welfare.

Nevertheless, there have been gifts of surprising creatures made to the municipality over the years, probably in a misguided attempt to support the local community by providing an “attraction” that might serve to amuse the locals and draw in much-needed summer visitors.  A pair of ostriches (both male… ooops!) turned up at some point; a pair of fallow deer followed; someone went abroad and abandoned a colourful macaw.  When a pair of Shetland ponies was donated they soon began to breed and now there are nine of them! 

Conditions at the menagerie where all these are housed are not as good as they might be.  Lack of funding too often means that standards of cleanliness and availability of food and water can be serious issues.  Animals don’t have appropriate space or good enough shelters.  Various people began protesting and also agitating for something to be done for the stray cat and dog population.    About a year ago a welfare group was formally constituted and began working in a more organised way than before.  Automatic cat-feeders have since appeared in town, placed there to try and support the colonies that struggle to survive the winter.  Neutering trips have also taken place, and conditions for the equines at the menagerie have recently begun to improve. 

Two Eleonora's falcons

GAWF’s Equine Team has visited three times in four years and you can read reports of those visits here.  After castration of the two Shetland stallions the herd will not, now, grow larger, and the birth defects that would have been the inevitable consequence of severe inbreeding will be avoided.
While the welfare group expected to be involved with improving conditions at the menagerie, and to do something to control the numbers of stray companion animals, perhaps its members didn’t bargain for some of the other challenges that have since come their way…

In September, a couple of wounded, rare and endangered Eleonora’s falcons were found – within a day of each other – and there was general consternation… who could diagnose what was wrong with the birds?  There is no vet on Kasos.  But Isabella, the group’s President, rose to the occasion and quickly arranged for the pair to be sent to Athens by ferry where ANIMA – the wildlife rescue organisation – was able to care for them.  Pictures of the birds on their way to recovery appeared on social media, and word went round.
The pelican, resting

So a couple of days ago, when a large, grey pelican fetched up in someone’s garden, limping a bit and clearly exhausted, the locals swung into action like a well-oiled machine…

Young mum, Dionysia, posted a photo… farmer, Filippis, arrived on his tractor and took the bird home where he tenderly fed it and gave it water.  His wife, Julie, and dance-teacher, Eliza, gently persuaded the bird into a cardboard box for a journey while it was otherwise occupied trying to eat Eliza’s knee, and it, too, has now arrived at ANIMA’s rescue centre. 

This novel interest in animal welfare seems to be providing the small community with a whole new sense of pride and achievement.  Long may it last!

Julie and Eliza preparing the pelican for travel
Filippis shows his tender side

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

A positive initiative from the Greek Police - by Anna Stamatiou, Trustee

It’s probably fair to say that when anyone mentions the Greek police, the image that most quickly springs to mind is of lines of officers behind Perspex riot shields trying (and failing) to keep order in front of the Parliament building in Syntagma Square, Athens. 

The image I have chosen is fairly typical in that respect.  And here’s Loucanicos, the riot dog too, giving the massed ranks a piece of his mind.  But, we are assured, all that is about to change. 

Following a pilot project that ran from April to June this year, a new initiative is now to be rolled out nationally.  From the 7th of September, the police announced, there will be a weekly “citizen’s hour” at every police station in Greece!  People are encouraged to come in and speak to the senior officer about any kind of criminal activity that is causing them concern.  Not only private individuals can come… the invitation extends to societies, groups and associations of all kinds too.  So from now on, each Monday evening between 6 and 8 p.m., there should be a listening ear at every police station. The idea, as announced, is for a dialogue covering every aspect of police work in the community to be started and then maintained.  It is hoped that this will lead to better informed and more responsive policing, while at the same time greater understanding of the role of the police develops in society, and confidence in the police service grows.  

Naturally, welfare groups are seeing this as an opportunity to air concerns about criminal cases of neglect, abuse and poisonings in their local communities, and to urge officers to act.  It has to be said that complaints concerning the abuse of animals have not, to date, always been given high priority by the Greek police. 

So, will it turn out to be window dressing or something real?  Time will tell. 

Monday, 29 June 2015

Clare's stay in Greece - Part five

It’s my final week in Kefalonia and my mind set has changed – I no longer feel I have ‘a future’ on the island as I’m now counting down the days.  Having said this, I’m determined to make the most of the last week and try and enjoy my time as I have done over the preceding weeks.  But I know I can come back and do the same again next year and this cheers me up! As the six weeks has gone so fast I’ve decided to come for eight weeks next time.  With this in mind, and the cost involved, I know I need to find a house which is smaller and without the pool!  The pool’s been lovely but haven’t used it that much, preferring to spend time on the beautiful beaches where the dogs can easily get into the water to cool down.   I’ve been looking at houses on the internet and even been to see a couple so the ball is rolling!

There has been a traffic diversion in place on the island during my stay.  There was a large earthquake on the island in January 2014 which damaged part of the coastal road on the west side of the island, making it dangerous to use.  Whilst the authorities discuss and debate in true Greek form the best way around the problem, the diversion  remains in place which means that a wide circuitous route must be take around the east side of the island to get from one end of the island to the other.  The diversion takes you through some beautiful countryside and allows staggering views across the sea to Ithaki, its neighbouring island, but does add a considerable amount of time and mileage to the journey.  So, everyone works hard to make sure they don’t have to make the trip more often than they need to and people help each other out with shopping and chores that need to be done in the capital.

I had planned to donate one of the dog’s beds and some blankets to the ARK (Animal Rescue Kefalonia) rescue centre which is located near to Argostoli, and which GAWF supports.  So, when taking Sarah to the airport, it seemed sensible to go there at the same time, as I knew I wouldn’t be in that area again during my stay.  Having never been to an animal rescue centre, Sarah was unsure about whether she wanted to go, worrying about what she may encounter when she was there.  But she decided to come with me in the end.  When we arrived I was pleased that the wonderful Marina (who I met when here two years ago and who runs the centre), was there.  She speaks very little English (and I speak very little Greek) but luckily, an English volunteer, Gill was there and we were able to find out what is happening with the centre at the moment.  They currently have around 350 dogs (including 36 puppies from the last few days) plus numerous cats.  I had warned Sarah that the sound of the barking is deafening when you arrive, as the dogs all clamour for your attention as you walk through.
Clare and Sarah with Marina at ARK
The animals are either rescued from the streets (if they are strays and need medical help), rescued from abusive situations or simply abandoned by their owners on the streets or at the gates to the centre.  The numbers sadly are increasing over time, and this seems to be linked to the current economical situation in Greece.  Having said this, I have noticed in Greece in general over more recent years, more Greek people with dogs as pets, walking them on leads.  This is a good sign, together with an increase in the number of vets operating on the islands.  So it seems that things are improving, albeit at a slow pace.

We talked about how hard just putting down food and water every day for 350 dogs must be, without any of the other tasks such as cleaning out the pens, giving them medication and making sure that they are happy and suited to the dogs they are sharing their pen with.  They also spend a lot time dealing with the police and the courts in trying to bring perpetrators to justice.  So many people on the island are involved with the charity and help out in any way they can.  And Marina, works 365 days a year – the dogs still need feeding on Christmas Day!  What a task, and I felt overcome with admiration for her.

We made a small monetary donation to the centre, which Marina was absolutely thrilled with.  She wanted a picture taken with us and even put on some lipstick which had been given to her recently, for the occasion! 

It was an emotional experience for both of us and Sarah told me later that it has really given her food for thought in terms of possibly taking a rescue dog on at some point in the future.  I can’t recommend it enough!  Having any dog is a privilege but to take a rescue gives you an added feeling of satisfaction, knowing that you’re giving that dog a loving home where they can be given the attention and time they deserve.

Clare and Poppy and Dexter - ready to go - but already making plans to return next year!
My stay here has now come to an end, but what a fantastic time I’ve had. It was better than I could ever have hoped for and the great thing is that it will still be there next year for me! I said my goodbyes to all the people I met, including the wonderfully hospitable owners of my house, Claire and Nikos and headed off to the port in Sami to catch the ferry to the mainland. 

Goodbye Kefalonia – see you next year!!