Crisis: Greece, stray animals phenomenon explodes

Less money around and more dogs abandoned in the streets

20 January, 12:16

Stray dogs in Athens Stray dogs in Athens

(ANSAmed) - ATHENS, JANUARY 20 - The severe economic crisis that has hit Greece is being felt in all walks of life, not only by people but also by animals, who are suffering the effects of the restrictions imposed upon their human friends. Greek animal rights groups have recently found themselves in great difficulty, as a result of a combination of factors, from financing cuts and a fall in donations from friends and supporters to a growing number of stray animals, particularly dogs, in the streets.

Every day, volunteers from these groups are now picking up dozens and dozens of dogs of all ages and races that are found tied to benches, trees and lamp-posts. Of course, all of them have been abandoned by owners who believe that they no longer have enough money to feed and take care of them.

"The situation is completely out of control," says Christiana Kalogeropoulou, a volunteer at the non-profit organisation, who vents her frustration in the daily newspaper Kathimerini. "All efforts made in the past to change people's attitudes and make sure that the state takes responsibility for the phenomenon of stray animals have been to no avail".

State authorities stopped financing animal rescue operations in 2009, adds Grigoris Gourdomichalis, the head of the environmental association for the cities of Athens and Piraeus. His group, the largest of its kind in the country, has not received a penny from the state in three years, despite a law that states that the association is entitled to 70% state financing of its annual budget.

In spite of this, the association is continuing to feed, vaccinate and sterilise stray dogs in the 18 wards that make up Athens and Piraeus. But as Gourdomichalis is keen to point out, "we are doing are duty with great difficulty, just as the number of stray dogs in the streets has sky-rocketed and there is an epidemic of distemper, which, for a dog, is one of the main causes of death". Although the financial crisis led city authorities in Athens to reduce last year's spending on the traditional Christmas decorations in Syntagma Square, the city is doing everything it can to maintain the protection programme for stray animals, even though financing for the city's doghouse has been more than halved, dropping from 500,000 euros two years ago to 190,000 euros today.

According to the deputy mayor of Athens, Angelos Antonopoulos, who is also in charge of environmental issues, city officials in Athens picked up 457 dogs in the capital's streets last year, providing medical treatment for 305 of them.

Antonopoulos, a vet by profession, admits that the number of cases of abandoned domestic animals - dogs in particular - has risen alarmingly because of the economic crisis, but says that a new trend is emerging for the same reason. Indeed, an increasing number of people who want to own a dog are choosing to adopt strays from the city's doghouse rather than buying one from a pet shop or from dog-breeders. "People are becoming increasingly aware of the problem," Antonopoulos says, providing a ray of hope for his four-legged patients. (ANSAmed).

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