A German friend recently visited Corfu and was delighted by the island and by the facilities of the hotel where she and her husband stayed. She was saddened, though, by the condition of the stray cats that she saw in the hotel’s environs – they were hungry and ill. She did all she could to feed and take care of them, but when she left she was worried about their fate.
She expressed her concerns in a Facebook post, eliciting responses from friends who had had similar experiences. One of them even said that this was the reason that she had not returned to Greece for holidays.
The mistreatment of animals in Greece may not appear the greatest problem that local municipalities and people involved in tourism have to face, whether this involves strays or the cruelty of owners (like those whose dogs are chained to barrels through winter and summer).
For those who love animals and care for them, however, it is hugely important. And they are many. According to figures from the European Pet Food Industry (FEDIAF), in 2017 there were 102,691,000 cats and 84,911,000 dogs living in European households.
The Russians owned the most cats, followed by the Germans, the French and the British (with 22.5 million, 13.7 million, 13.5 million and 7.9 million, respectively). With regard to dogs, Russia was again first, followed by Germany, the United Kingdom and France (with 16.4 million, 9.2 million, 8.6 million and 7.4 million, respectively).
In Greece, FEDIAF estimates that we own 590,000 cats and 660,000 dogs. It is difficult to know how many stray pets and dogs live in Greece but there are estimates that they are many times more than those with owners.
What is clear, though, is that their lives are difficult and short, even as conditions are somewhat better than in the past. There are many complaints of abuse but this probably reflects greater public sensitivity, not that the abuse and killing of animals is greater than in the past, when chaos reigned and no one was held accountable.
Animal lovers, welfare groups and (to the extent that the people in charge care) municipalities are trying to improve conditions for strays. They feed them, neuter them, take them to the vet when necessary, they try to find shelter for them. More volunteers are involved and society in general has accepted that cruelty to animals cannot be tolerated.
Cases of abuse that become known provoke a reaction in public opinion and, finally, may lead to criminal convictions. But however much criminal behavior may be frowned upon, indifference remains a great problem.
There is a widespread mentality which holds back progress, with sarcasm and hostility aimed at those who care for animals. These include neighbors who hurl abuse at people who provide water and food for strays, municipalities indifferent or hostile to efforts to improve the situation, and policies such as those in the Agriculture Ministry bill that was recently withdrawn because of an outcry by animal welfare groups, which said that the bill actually made it more difficult to care for animals.
Conditions for cats and dogs may be improving gradually but this is not enough – not for them, not for the rest of us. Cats and kittens are lords of the internet and social media, just as their wild cousin, the lion, rules the jungle. This means that the conditions in which cats and dogs live in our country is the concern not only of anyone who visits Greece but also anyone who has a computer, tablet or mobile phone.
A hungry, ill and hopeless kitten in Athens (or anywhere in the world, for that matter) is a hungry, ill and hopeless kitten in Berlin, in Alaska, in Australia. Abuse and neglect provoke revulsion wherever they occur. When the problems are repeated, when the pain is evident in photos and videos on countless screens across the world, a country’s image can easily be tainted by the criminal activity of a few people.
The internet and social networks, however, also provide opportunities to create a positive image. If people who care about the lives of unprotected cats, dogs and other animals are enraged by cruelty, they are just as delighted when they witness acts of kindness.
If the agencies involved in promoting tourism, including hotel associations, were to prepare a program making their members (as well as members of the public) aware of the need to take care of stray animals in their vicinity, they would immediately gain positive publicity. For themselves and for the country.
Cooperation between people involved in tourism, volunteers, welfare agencies, veterinary surgeons and municipalities – which would allow visitors to take part – would help our animals and also provide joy and satisfaction to ourselves and to our friends from abroad. Because all our visitors are friends.