Bill to address stray problem

Every summer, a canine population explosion hits the streets and parks of Athens as city-dwellers, unwilling to have their holidays spoiled by the pet that seemed a good idea in the winter, jettison their dogs to fend for themselves. Those former pets that escape death by poisoning or by car usually end up roaming the capital’s public areas in mangy, noisy and often menacing packs that annoy the general public and far exceed the care abilities of animal welfare groups. Hoping to address the problem – which the government would dearly like to have out of the way by the 2004 Olympics – the Ministry of Agriculture is drafting legislation that would force all dog-owners to register their pets, while imposing stiff fines on those who dump them on the streets. According to Vassilis Stylas, head of the ministry’s veterinarian department, all registered dogs will carry their owners’ particulars on a microchip, which will help the authorities track down people who abandon their pets. First-time offenders will be fined 300 euros, and 600 euros if caught again. A registration fee, from which the ministry may except people who adopt strays from dog shelters, will be imposed to partially fund the shelters, as well as a stray inoculation and sterilization program. Overall responsibility for the project will be handed to local authorities. «The ministry can offer some funds,» Stylas said. «After that, local authorities will have to find a way to finance the project.» It is unclear how this could happen, as the registration fees alone will not be enough. Next year, a municipal stray shelter will open in Korydallos, western Athens. But Korydallos Deputy Mayor Grigoris Gourdomichalis says the costs will be high. «Animal welfare groups will have to help,» he warned.

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