The country’s first state-run center for stray dogs is to be inaugurated by Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis in Schisto near Piraeus, this afternoon – one month after the government unveiled a bill to discourage Greeks from abandoning their pets in a bid to clear the streets of strays ahead of the 2004 Olympics. The aim of the Intra-municipal Center for the Care of Stray Animals is to vaccinate, sterilize and tag all strays, nurse sick animals back to health, and find new homes for as many dogs as possible, according to the Association of Piraeus and Western Attica Municipalities which launched the initiative three months ago. The association – which comprises the municipalities of Piraeus, Nikaia, Keratsini, Korydallos, Haidari, Aghia Varvara, Perama, Aghios Ioannis Rentis and Drapetsona – is to operate the center with the help of local animal rights groups with whom it has signed a cooperation protocol. According to the agreement, the dogs are to be collected «in appropriate vehicles and by expert staff, in the presence of local animal rights groups representatives where possible.» There was no explanation as to why or how frequently the latter representatives would not be available. Effectively, the center will provide a temporary home for the animals, housing them for at least a week for sterilization and providing medical attention where necessary, before they are returned to their original haunts, according to a statement by the association. Dogs resident at the center will always be available for adoption, the statement added, stressing that the transfer of strays off the streets and into homes remained its long-term goal. While at the center, the strays will be segregated according to the state of their health, with the fate of animals with severe injuries or diseases communicable to humans at the discretion of an «ethics committee» (comprising an equal number of state officials and animal rights representatives), the association added. The center, which accommodates a full range of veterinary facilities and special collection vehicles within its 0.5-hectare grounds, is the first in Europe to include a public information service, the association said, adding that it was chiefly targeting pupils and teachers of all levels in its aim of sensitizing the public to the problem of growing numbers of strays. Under a bill tabled in Parliament last month, all dog owners must register and tag their animals from the age of two months, have them examined by a vet at least once a year, and pay a small registration fee. Pet-owners who abandon their animals will face fines from 300 euros.