SOCIETY

SAPT: Championing mutts and their many benefits

Stray Action — Pet Therapy Hellas, or SAPT, is a nonprofit organization that raises awareness about strays in Greece and good pet ownership through a three-pronged effort which is headed by an educational campaign and complemented by pet-assisted therapy sessions and a companion dog adoption program.

The organization, which comprises 14 volunteers and is under the direction of its founder Christina Economou, was established in 2005 with the assistance of veterinarian Christos Ktenas.

Explaining the purpose of the organization to Kathimerini English Edition, Economou said, ?The idea was based on changing the mentality around pet ownership, which really is a must.?

SAPT Hellas also focuses on the merits of mixed-breed dogs, in an effort to highlight the fact that all dogs have great potential, not just purebreds.

Following this line of reasoning, all the dogs utilized in their educational initiatives, therapy sessions and those they facilitate the adoption of are mixed breeds.

When describing how SAPT Hellas achieves its educational mission, Economou said: ?We go as a team of people and dogs. We visit schools on invitation.?

The educational program is offered to schools, both public and private, in the hope of creating lasting change by putting information into the hands of the next generation. Economou stressed that ?children need to learn not only about responsible pet ownership but also how to deal with dogs that are strays, because they are all around us, they are individuals in the city just like we are.?

This is one of the highlights of the informational program, where children of all ages are taught specific skills related to interacting with strays. They are also taught why a dog may behave in a certain way as well as to recognize how a dog communicates its feelings through the movement of its ears, tail, fur, eyes and mouth.

Economou explained a significant part of their educational initiative is ?to teach children from kindergarten to high school about what it means to have a dog, what a joy it is and the responsibilities that go with it.?

The class, which couples an oral presentation with interactive examples and hands-on learning, is tailored to the specific age group of the audience. The oral presentation is accompanied by a slideshow that is then followed by exercises with the volunteers and dog team. In an effort to ensure that the students have a positive experience, prior to visiting a school, SAPT Hellas asks the host teachers to identify students who may have be allergic to or have a fear of dogs, so appropriate preparations can be made.

Beyond the educational efforts made by SAPT Hellas, it also offers social and community services through a pet-assisted therapy program that is aimed specifically at helping mentally or physically disabled children and adults. The program is designed in collaboration with the doctors, psychiatrists and social workers who care for the individuals and understand their unique needs.

After a consultation with the caregivers, SAPT Hellas develops a program with the team?s therapy dogs that helps the disabled individual build a new skill or reach a specific goal.

Understanding the potential improvement in the quality of life that a dog can bring to the disabled, Economou said, ?I really believe that every family that has a disabled person — a child or adult — would really benefit from adopting a dog because there are so many ways a dog can communicate — it?s invaluable.?

SAPT Hellas runs a comprehensive companion dog adoption program that prioritizes quality over quantity. The organization acts as an intermediary between foster families who are caring for rescued dogs and people who want to adopt. Potential applicants go through a screening process to ensure the success of the adoption. All the dogs in the adoption program receive blood tests, microchipping, first full deworming, first full round of vaccinations and neutering, all paid for by SAPT Hellas.

Although all qualified individuals are eligible for the companion dog adoption program, Economou said, ?We pay special attention to families that have disabled children to help them adopt a dog because this will make a huge difference in the child?s life.?

SAPT Hellas would not be able to provide these services without the help of their volunteers and generous donors. For the past five years, the Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation has provided grants that have supported the bulk of the NGO?s operations. However, the ongoing financial crisis has taken a toll on the resources available to SAPT Hellas at a time when the need for the services it provides is rising.

If you are interested in finding out how you can help or more about SAPT Hellas and the services it provides, visit www.sapt.gr or e-mail [email protected]