Greece: Coronavirus threatens fate of abandoned dogs

Dogs fill shelters and line streets amid travel restrictions and growing rate of abandonment due to financial woes.

Athens, Greece – As a nationwide lockdown enters its second month in Greece, animal rescue groups and shelters have become overwhelmed with the number of strays piling up in their facilities.

Although dog adoption in central Athens and other urban city centres continues, as some seek companionship in the form of pets during the lockdown, international dog adoption from Greece to countries across Europe and the US has come to a standstill.


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Thousands of dogs who were slated to travel abroad to new homes are now stranded in shelters across the country, which has become a popular source for international adoption, waiting for coronavirus travel restrictions to be lifted.

As the weeks pass, the backlog of dogs is increasing and the cost of care is becoming unmanageable for some facilities.

For Detroit resident Jennifer Cloherty, who runs international dog rescue organisation Above and Beyond English Setter Rescue, coronavirus travel restrictions have halted her international operations.

Cloherty normally travels to Greece every few weeks to bring dozens of dogs from a shelter on the outskirts of Athens back to the US. 

“Unfortunately, with the travel restrictions and lockdowns in Greece and the USA as well, it is currently impossible for me to bring any of our dogs back from Greece,” she told Al Jazeera.  

“I have no idea when we’ll be able to resume bringing dogs back, I cannot take any more dogs at the kennel. We don’t have any more space, nor can we afford it,” she said.

A lack of resources means that shelters have been forced to stop taking in new strays, leading to more dogs on the street.

It also means more dogs continuing to breed in the wild, which again increases the number of strays. 

Even before the coronavirus pandemic changed the nature of dog adoption in Greece, more dogs were being abandoned because people could no longer afford them and also due to a hunting culture.

“Nowadays, the abandoned dogs problem is significant – the numbers show a great spike in the last years,” said Sotiria Kiriazi, a dog trainer and family pet consultant in Athens. 

“This fact may be attributed to the long-lasting economic crisis in Greece, but there seems to be a connection to the lack of education regarding animal rights and welfare.”

Domestic adoption in Greece has grown recently but mostly in city centres, where there are more young people.

“The older generation sees dogs just as tools,” said Irini Moifessi, president of the Pan-Hellenic Animal Welfare Federation. 

“This [mentality] has changed with the new generation. They’re obviously more animal friendly, they’re more sensitive to the cause of animals.”

Young people are also more likely to adopt a street dog rather than buy a purebred dog, she said. 

But the dogs normally adopted by young city dwellers are small or puppies, due to a lack of space. This means bigger, older and former hunting dogs are rarely taken in. 

These are the dogs that usually go for international adoption.

“It is a difficult situation for our international rescue at the moment,” said Cloherty, who now has over 60 dogs waiting to travel from Greece to the US, a number feared to increase.

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