New law on collecting and treating stray animals has been allowed to lapse after the Olympics

Three years ago, pet owners rushed to veterinarians for the identity microchips required by a new law (3170/2003) in order to avoid fines of up to 1,500 euros. Thousands of animals were given the microchips and the accompanying documents required for the animals to travel within the European Union. The data bank required to be kept by the Panhellenic Veterinary Society was under way. The prevailing sense was that, in combination with a municipal drive to neuter and vaccinate strays, the plan would reduce the number of stray animals on the streets. The idea was to discourage careless pet owners from abandoning an animal which had the microchip embedded in its skin and which would identify its owner. No one could have imagined that most municipalities would stop collecting strays for treatment immediately after the Olympic Games (when the world’s television cameras had gone) and that in the absence of information programs and inspections, owners would not be as conscientious about getting their dogs identity chips. Now their numbers have dwindled to a trickle, while the number of strays on the streets remains high. About 100,000 stray dogs are estimated to be wandering the streets of Attica, with a total 300,000 around the country as a whole. In Athens, there have been fewer strays since the Olympics mainly because of the municipal spaying and neutering program. The City of Athens is one of the very few that have continued with the campaign. However, the reduction in the stray population is not what was expected. According to data from the Panhellenic Veterinary Society, the data bank of microchipped animals currently numbers 90,000 pets; the total number of pet owners, however, is estimated at about 2 million. The main reason for the problem (apart from the lack of awareness about caring for pets) is the complete lack of inspections. In the three years since the law came into effect, the City of Athens Police, which is the authority responsible, has not imposed a single fine. «They have made inspections, but have not caught a pet owner with an unidentified animal,» said the deputy mayor in charge, Tonia Kanellopoulou. «Patrols go out but obviously not when the unidentified dogs are taken out,» she said. Veterinarian Tassos Kanouris scoffed at these claims. «Based on the low number of animals that have been given microchips, it can’t be that hard to find an unidentified animal. I can’t understand why they don’t carry out inspections, since that would bring in revenue from the fines imposed.» He believes authorities have stopped implementing the pet-related law. «The state has not done what it was supposed to. Apart from taking an animal abroad by air, there are other ways of getting it out without supplying the proper documents. No information is provided. If 60 percent of all pets were brought in for microchips when the law first came into effect, now the figure is one a month,» he said. According to Liana Alexandri, head of the Hellenic Animal Welfare Society, stray dogs are still breeding. «We thought that the new law would help but the problems remain. Animals are still being abandoned. The areas around the Parnitha cable car, Thrakomakedones and the Mesogeia plain are full of strays. Among my own acquaintances who are pet owners, not one has been stopped for a microchip or documents check. If there are no checks, there will be violations of the law,» she said. Greek pet owners are also lax in spaying and neutering their animals. «The main reason there are so many strays in Greece today is the puppies that are still being born both to pets and strays,» said Alexandri. «Owners don’t know what to do with them so they just dump them in the streets and [the animals] become tomorrow’s strays.» Kanellopoulou agrees. «People have to realize that they must have their dogs spayed and neutered. It just isn’t possible in a European country that people don’t realize the need for that,» said Kanellopoulou, who also added that the city would shortly be embarking on a campaign to raise public awareness of the issue. This article appeared in the November issue of ECO, a Kathimerini supplement.

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