Animal welfare groups in Greece and other European countries have been up in arms following reports in the Greek press alleging that well-known organizations, ostensibly sending dogs and cats abroad for adoption by foreign families, had actually sold the animals to pharmaceutical firms and manufacturers. The allegations emerged after animal protection workers, organizing the transport of two groups of dogs to Germany and Belgium, were stopped at Athens Airport last month because the official papers for the animals’ export had not been those required by new legislation. «It is true that the papers did not respond to new legislation but we hadn’t been told we would need new papers,» Carol McBeth of the Greek Animal Welfare Fund (GAWF) said. «In any case, the dogs destined for Belgium were sent last week after the right papers were submitted,» she added. One of the provisions of legislation passed in Parliament last November requires municipal approval for the transportation of animals abroad, along with a confirmation that they are not destined for vivisection. But the fact this provision was not adhered to in one case does not mean the animals were bound for laboratories, animal workers charge. «Claims that dogs are being sold for 30-35 euros each are ridiculous. Their transportation costs more than this,» McBeth said. «The accusations by the media, that these animals are meant for experimentation purposes in laboratories in Germany and other countries, and that their fur is to be made into coats or shoe leather are vicious, ludicrous and utterly without substantiation,» according to Katrin Achek, spokesperson for Animal Respect Deutschland which has established animal shelters on the islands of Aegina and Agistri and coordinates the adoption in Germany of resident strays. There are currently around 120 dogs at the Aegina shelter but «a long-term life in the shelter cannot be in the spirit of animal welfare» according to Achek, so she and her associates use their network of contacts in Germany, the UK and other countries to find suitable families to adopt the strays. Those at the source of allegations are uninformed about the work carried out by animal welfare groups, Achek maintained. «They really have no idea. We work in our spare time to raise the money needed to fly out the strays and get them immunization and medical treatment,» she said. However, new European and Greek laws mean that immunizations and health certificates are no longer sufficient to document the proper export of animals. They must be fitted with microchips, have the official certification of the municipal authorities, the veterinary department and the Department of Agriculture and the existence of their new owners must be proven. Ioanna Garagouni, a senior official of the Confederation of Animal Protection Societies of Greece – who was involved in stopping the planned transportation of the dogs last month – insists that the problems at the airport last month were due to the non-adherence to new legislation by the group organizing the export of the animals. She queries the motives of foreign groups spending so much money to import Greek strays instead of running an adoption campaign for their own strays. And she is skeptical about the final destination of the dogs and cats being sent abroad. «We see a few photo albums showing a few families with dogs they say are happy. But where are the thousands of animals (being exported) ending up?» Asked whether she believes that Greek strays are being sent abroad for vivisection purposes, Garagouni did not categorically state that she did but retorted, «What other explanation is there for the thousands of strays being sent abroad from Greece?» (Garagouni could not cite a source to prove that thousands of animals are being flown out of Greece.) Indeed, speculation that Greek animals could be destined for laboratory testing or sold for their skins has not been substantiated by any source to date. «There are fears but there is no evidence,» Liana Alexandri, head of the Hellenic Animal Welfare Society, told The Associated Press earlier this month. But some foreign animal protection groups believe such speculation is willfully misleading. «One could get the impression that this is a systematic campaign against foreign animal welfare groups to cover up what really happens to the dogs and cats on the streets of Greece,» Alfred Schaefer, the head of an animal protection organization in Cologne, said about «defamations» in the Greek press in an e-mail sent to Kathimerini’s Greek Edition. In his e-mail, Schaefer demanded a public apology from the media and the intervention of the Agriculture Ministry in favor of authorized foreign organizations. «I would say that the habit of poisoning unwanted animals – which we see in Athens and the rest of Greece – is still the most common day-to-day procedure of stray control. This happens at any new construction site and twice a year all over Greece,» Achek claimed. But the discovery of 60 poisoned dogs in Athens’s National Gardens last year and less-publicized reports earlier this month that another 40 dogs were killed in Saronida have fueled speculation among animal rights groups that poisoning will be used as a cheap and easy way to clear the streets of Athens before the Olympics. Indeed, animal protection groups claim that at least 3,000 stray dogs had been fatally poisoned by the end of last October. However, there has been no proof that any particular body or group has been systematically poisoning stray animals. On the contrary, Athens authorities have been running a «catch, neuter and release» scheme for stray animals and a parallel adoption campaign, with Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis reportedly adopting two dogs herself to set an example to her fellow citizens. But some animal welfare groups maintain that the necessary infrastructure for the tagging and collection of strays is not in place at the local level. Indeed, Achek charges that the lack of consensus between local authorities and the government on working with animal shelters «makes cooperation literally impossible – with the best will in the world.» Nevertheless, the eventual arrival of five stray puppies in Belgium last week suggests that animal welfare groups are getting to grips with new laws and are continuing their adoption programs, undeterred by rumors and red tape.