| by Claire Kalemkeris & Nicolas Stephanou
"Animals are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time."
The quote cited above is the work of an environmentalist writer and we feel that it expresses the unique relationship between animals and humans. In the process of re-examining what is fundamentally the function of a humane society on the island, some thought has been put towards addressing: "What are we doing and why?"
If we would like to ensure that we live in a civilized society, then part of the responsibility of making this praxis is taking care of the things that fall to the wayside. The stray population of the island are basically somebody's throwaways. The dogs deserve respect and a chance for a good life, for they have fundamentally done nothing wrong except to be in the wrong place with the wrong person. Old dogs can learn new tricks!
Since these animals are domesticated animals, there is actual legislation that requires that municipalities take some responsibility for their welfare and quality of life. A dynamic relationship between the local humane society, i.e. PAWS, and the municipality is the most effective way for that to happen. These animals do not deserve mistreatment because a human owner has made the mistake of being irresponsible. The reality is that not taking action has destructive consequences: disease, packs of dogs running together, damage to livestock, soiling of town areas, and finally cruelty to animals which is never a pretty picture for a tourist destination.
The effort to investigate what other organizations have been doing on other islands has been fruitful. The process of researching a position paper has contributed to a much more informed approach about ways to manage the various problems faced by PAWS. We recently presented the beginning of this research to the mayor. It is available on our website in Greek and in English and will continue to be updated and hopefully be a resource for other islands engaged in similar work.
The programme is structured like a wheel. The spokes of this wheel are sterilization, re-homing, education and obedience training. We believe all these components are necessary to have successful long term results. If any spoke is missing the programme starts to fall apart.
An education programme can make all the difference over the long term, as can obedience training which we believe will allow owners to have a more knowledgeable working relationship with their dogs and make it less likely for more dogs to be tossed in the street. If you can start to develop an understanding of how your dog behaves, lots of problems can be avoided.
Some good news and practical updates:
- We have discovered a variety of possibilities to fund the various components of such a programme. The mayor has agreed to take on the responsibility of the sterilization efforts which will be taken from the money voted by the municipal council during the previous PAWS administration. The money has not been distributed because the town has run out of resources; however the immediate veterinary fees will slowly be deducted from the original sum that has already been voted upon. We are delighted by these negotiations that include a commitment to providing funds regularly for the veterinary services. We would like to thank the initial work of the previous board of PAWS that initiated this process and that has now flowered into a much more comprehensive commitment.
- Time for some celebration! The mayor has also provided a variety of possible locations for a transfer-recovery station. We have looked at various shelter models and continued to dialogue with a number of veterinarians and humane societies on different islands about what would be a more successful model for Paros. We have become familiar with a pilot project on the island of Lesbos. Their transfer shelter was created by a previous mayor of Lesbos who also happens to be a veterinarian. He designed an efficient system in which the dogs do not stay permanently and had it funded with a budget of 60,000€ from state resources. We are also investigating state funding; unfortunately as the Olympic Games are over and the Greek economy is going through recession, most of the resources have disappeared.
- The law establishes that it is preferable to have stray animals adopted, however if a home cannot be found the dog should be re-released. We learned from Dr Rozos of Syros that after sterilizing, identity chipping and giving anti-parasite treatment to about 40 dogs, most of these dogs were re-released in the town and after one year less than 10 are left alive. He feels considerable frustration that all that work was wasted and the outcome for the dogs is so bleak. In Syros they do not have a very active re-homing programme. Again we return to the importance of using a transfer shelter to facilitate adoption and re-homing.
- The research we've done has indicated that creating a large no-kill shelter facility has failed elsewhere and most of the humane societies in Greece advise against it. The first reason being it becomes financially prohibitive in an environment where people on the islands are uninterested in adopting dogs that are more than 3-4 months old especially if they are not pedigreed. The shelters become a dumping ground and the dogs fail to leave. It is imperative to have an aggressive re-homing programme which the mayor is especially interested that we continue. The benefits are immeasurable for the town because the animals are not piling up and creating disruption. Most importantly, for each individual dog adopted, the difference is all the world. They are afforded a chance for a quality life where there is love and respect.
A service organization is only as good as the people who participate and provide service. To make this programme work it is important that many people participate. There is no way anything can happen if lots of people are not involved.
We graciously invite people who are interested in helping to continue this work. Join and make the difference!