Greece’s perennial stray dog and cat problem has been highlighted by the outrage of veterinarians and breeders at the proposed legislation that seeks to make sterilization of animals mandatory.
The country has one of the largest stray cat and canine populations in the world, and the problem is further exacerbated during the country’s protracted debt crisis. Animal rights activists estimate that Athens alone may have up to 2 million stray dogs and cats. The management of stray animals falls to the local municipalities.
The proposed law is up for public consultation until it is put to a vote in June, but has already seen coordinated opposition from veterinarians, who went on strike last week.
“Studies in the United States and Australia have shown that mandatory sterilization just doesn’t work,” said Manos Vorrisis, who runs a low-cost sterilization clinic on the Aegean island of Syros. Breeders say the law, intended to expressly address the problem of stray dogs, could lead to an end to pedigrees that have existed in Greece since ancient times.
“It’s not just about mandatory sterilizations,” said Theodosis Papandreou, who runs the only club in the country that represents amateur breeders. “The law also reduces the ability of owners to have litters, which would ultimately spell the end of pedigrees that are unique here.”
As the home of Europe’s oldest dog, the Cretan hound, and other canines immortalized in ancient wall paintings, statues and vases, it was the responsibility of authorities to make sure they survived, he said.
“We should do everything possible to preserve these rare breeds and not extinguish them at a time when we want to participate in dog shows like Crufts. [held in the UK]. This new law will be a fatal mistake if it has such an effect on thoroughbreds. “
Across the eastern Mediterranean, steps are being taken to raise awareness of animal rights in nations that have too often relied on volunteer networks to rescue abandoned pets.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis recently adopted a rescue cub, Peanut, in hopes of highlighting the problem, as did Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades before him. Like Cyprus, Greece has a powerful group of hunters who are often blamed for the inhumane treatment of dogs that are no longer considered useful. In both countries, stories of cruelty to animals are common.
The proposed law was compiled in the hope of convincing Greeks not only of the need to sterilize cats and dogs, but to treat them humanely.
“It is time for Greece to take courageous steps for the protection of our little friends,” Mitsotakis tweeted along with a video on the bill. “The protection of animals is a question of civilization,” he said, noting that the legislation also seeks to protect animals from abuse by facilitating adoption processes.
Opposition to castration is a cultural problem in Greece. “Men in this country are especially opposed because they equate sterilization with stripping animals of their virility,” said Efi Tsekmesoglou, from the Chania branch of the Animal Protection Association in Crete. “Every day we find boxes and bags of kittens and puppies in garbage cans, and most of them are dumped by hunters and shepherds. Of course, there should be a mandatory castration. “
Breaking with the past, the bill provides for prison terms and heavy fines for crimes ranging from illegal animal trafficking to theft of pets.
Penalties of up to € 50,000 are stipulated for torture and abuse, including “poisoning, hanging, drowning, crushing and mutilation” of animals, all of which are regularly observed in rural areas.
Greece’s Animal Welfare Fund, a UK-based charity that has advocated for the protection of animals for decades, sees the bill as overdue. Speaking from London, Paul McGlone, director of the charity, welcomed its scope and provisions including mandatory microchipping and the creation of a national registry to record the ownership of animals. “It is clearly very ambitious and will require a lot of changes in attitudes and behavior,” he said.
“But he clearly intends to control the large number of stray dogs and cats in the country and gradually but humanely reduce them by promoting and enforcing sterilization. We celebrate the broad intent behind this new legislation. “