The visible suffering of cats in Greece is harming tourism

In response to your article «Tourism Industry at Critical Crossroads» (July 12). My husband and I visited Athens a week ago and ventured out to the island of Hydra, which is host to many well-heeled tourists’ yachts, restaurants, the blue Mediterranean and also many stray, starving, sick cats and kittens, a stark contrast to all this wealth. I was quite shocked at their poor health. They are obviously affected by the contagious cat influenza, many animals were affected with runny eyes and noses. A pathetic sight that stays with me was of a miserable, ginger kitten which had already lost an eye to infection and was on the way to losing the other eye as well. Later on in the day, we were sitting in a restaurant where an emaciated female cat gave birth to four kittens under an adjacent table, a young boy, worried about the welfare of these animals, spent his time chasing off opportunistic cats and dogs. Some tourists took photographs of these unfortunate creatures, others, like myself, were horrified. How can people witnessing this misery enjoy themselves as holidaymakers? Then there are also public health issues which should be of concern. Apart from contagious feline viruses and animals giving birth under restaurant tables, there is infectious toxoplasma, which can infect humans. Pregnant women are particularly at risk; without a strong immune system to keep the parasite in check, a fetus can suffer brain damage. Unfortunately this is how I will remember Hydra, and I am sure other islands have similar problems; I am aware that Cyprus has many homeless dogs and cats, a shameful situation! To quote your prime minister’s comment about Greece’s tourism industry: «The challenge for quality and competitiveness depends on the entirety of impressions a visitor has, every step of the way.» I cannot understand why a veterinarian cannot visit the island, say on a monthly basis, to immunize and sterilize the resident cat population and organize a feeding program. This will keep the cat population at a minimum, maintain their health and not deter visitors. Animals are sentient beings, they deserve respect and have a right to a decent existence. The stray cats’ visible suffering cast a shadow over the much-lauded «visit a Greek Island» idea, and could well affect the «most profitable sector of the Greek economy.» JILLIAN SNELL, via e-mail.