SOCIETY

Number of abandoned dogs skyrocketing

Greek animal rights groups are in dire straits over a combination of major funding cutbacks, dwindling donations and a rising number of strays, especially dogs.

Hundreds of dogs of all ages and breeds are being picked up by such groups after being found tied to benches, trees and lampposts, obviously abandoned by owners who feel they can no longer afford to feed and care for them.

?The situation is completely out of control,? according to Christiana Kalogeropoulou of nonprofit group Stray.gr. ?Every effort made in the past to change people?s mentalities and get the state to take some responsibility for the situation has been all but forgotten.?

According to Grigoris Gourdomichalis, head of the Environmental Association for the Municipalities of Athens and Piraeus, local authorities have stopped funding animal rescue efforts since 2009, with his group, which is the largest of its kind in the country, having received no money from the state in the past three years, even though it is legally entitled to subsidies of 70 percent of its annual budget.

?It makes sense given that for a decision to be executed it needs to be approved by the ministries of Interior, Finance and Agricultural Development. It takes nine days for a single decision to move up one rung on the ladder,? said Gourdomichalis.

The group continues to feed, inoculate and neuter strays in the 18 municipalities it covers in Athens and Piraeus, but Gourdomichalis said, ?We are carrying out our duties with extreme difficulty at a time when the number of strays on the streets is skyrocketing and there is a distemper epidemic, which is one of the leading causes of canine deaths.?

The City of Athens is also trying to keep its stray protection program alive even though the funding for its shelter has been reduced to 190,000 euros from 500,000 two years ago.

According to the city?s deputy mayor for the environment, Angelos Antonopoulos, the City of Athens collected 457 strays from the streets of the Greek capital in 2011 and has provided medical treatment to 305 dogs.

A veterinarian by trade, Antonopoulos says that while pet abandonment is on the rise due to the economic crisis, there is one upside as a rising number of people are opting to adopt a stray rather than buying a dog from a pet shop or a breeder. ?People are becoming a lot more aware of the issue,? said Antonopoulos.