Animal Encounters / Greece / Travel

Dog Tales From Athens

 

City dog

A few years ago we lived in Athens, Greece for a while. As many travelers before us have mentioned, one of the first things we noticed when we arrived was the dogs … lots of dogs … everywhere. And Athens is a large, metropolitan city!

We learned that the Greek people and their dogs have a long and fascinating history. In ancient Greece dogs were considered to be geniuses. Plato called his dog “a lover of learning” while Socrates claimed that his canine companion was “a true philosopher.” And the Greek historian Thucydides believed that dogs had the power to detect and anticipate earthquakes – a handy talent in this part of the world!

Diogenes

The Greek philosopher Diogenes (404-323 BC) is lighting the lamp he used to search for an honest man. His companions were dogs that also served as emblems of his “Cynic” (Greek: “kynikos,” dog-like) philosophy, which emphasized an austere existence.

The Greeks loved their pets so much that they wanted to be portrayed with them on their tombstones.

Greek gravestone

After living in Athens we realized that the dogs seem to fall into four categories.

1. “Kept” Dogs
These are the city dogs that we all know – and many of us share our lives with them. They live with us as members of the family. We love them, care for them, put them on leashes, and take them for neighborhood walks – maybe even to the park. Sometimes we have cute little outfits for them when it’s chilly. And one of the side benefits is that we meet lots of interesting people through them. Win-win.

Greek dog w coat

2. Balcony Dogs
Athens is a vertical city – street after street of tall apartment buildings with balconies. We hadn’t lived in a tall city like this since Berlin, so we were surprised at the number of Balcony Dogs. They appear to live most of their lives on terraces high in the air, peering in their owners windows. They only bark at other dogs below … and pigeons, which must be like squirrels with wings. Their humans don’t take them for walks – or out of the building for that matter. And if they’ve been put on the balcony for protection, it would have to be a pretty serious cat burglar to attempt that stunt. Neither César Millán nor Victoria Stilwell would be pleased.

Balcony dog

3. Citizen Dogs
Now here’s a story. Athens has a long history of street dogs. Literally thousands of free-roaming strays! But when Athens was selected to host the 2004 Summer Olympics, Athenians were concerned about their world image. So they rounded up all the dogs; they were vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and given collars with tracking tags – blue for males and red for females. The city government fed and housed the dogs during the Olympics; then, when the final ceremonies ended … they brought them back to town and turned them loose again. Basically a “Catch and Release Program” for street dogs.

Petros_the_dog

“I found this guy on the steps of the Acropolis of Athens. His tag said ‘Petros, sterile, vaccinated’ and had a phone number. Thinking that the dog was lost, I called the number. I was informed that Petros is an official ‘Athens Municipality Stray Dog.’ I was further told that Petros is very fast and active and that he gets around.” — Tilemahos Efthimiadis

You often see them snoozing in the sunshine by the Acropolis, sprawled across a busy sidewalk of a main street, or hovering outside a restaurant with an expectant grin.

“In most European countries they solve this problem with euthanasia. But Greek culture is against that. Our law is about rehabilitating the dogs. People here take care of them and love them. They are like everyone’s dog.” –Anna Makri, head of the city’s Stray Animal Service.

Athens’ Citizen Dogs – owned by no one. True free agents!

20111220-124038.jpg

4. Protest Dogs
Meet Loukanikos, the Riot Dog, King of the Citizen Dogs. (His name means “Sausage” in Greek!) He’s an easygoing mutt with a political agenda, and has been featured in Time Magazine’s Person of the Year Award, right next to the Protester. He’s their faithful companion, always takes the side of the Protesters, and is ready to do battle on their behalf. He even has his own Facebook Page!

20111220-124309.jpg

Aris Messinis / AFP / Getty Images

And as a bonus category, the Ikea Dogs, whose sole duty is to defend our favorite bastion of capitalism. As you see, they vigorously guard their turf! Long may they rule!

Ikea dogs

Did someone say “Squirrel?”

Terri

donkey2

And if you liked this, you may also enjoy:

Donkey Tales From Santorini!

Cats Rule in Dubrovnik!

 

61 thoughts on “Dog Tales From Athens

  1. Terri I LOVE this post. As you know one of my favorite topics in travel are the dogs of the country. Our short time in Greece found us primarily with the citizen dogs who never seemed to actually walk, just sloth about laying as if sleeping off a binge in the canine taverna. I had no idea about the strays being catalogued. I laughed out loud at your catch and release phrase. I will be thinking about your categories in future travels 🙂

    • I love your description of the Citizen Dogs, Sue – “sloth about.” It”s like they’re on long-term sleeping pills. We thought they were like one of Dali’s paintings – draped over everything. We had several Citizen dogs on our street with both blue and red collars so we checked it out. It’s such a unique municipal program that we had never encountered before . It goes to show that every society finds a different way of dealing with their problems. ~Terri

      • Terri your reference to Dali’s paintings had me snorting my coffee. Fantastic description. When we arrived in Greece after being chased by dogs in Turkey, these citizen dogs seemed to be of a completely different breed. As you say each society figures out a way to deal with them.

  2. Your post reminded me of our visit to Athens. Loved the street dogs! Laughed a lot at those darn dogs, snoozin in the sun and wandering through historical sites ignoring the signs that said No Dogs. Took lots of photos, went home and showed them to our lovely brown Labrador and told him stories about the street dogs and how lucky he was to have a home. He just said “hrrmmph” and went back to sleep in the sun.

    • Keiry, great description of all the dogs snoozin in the sun – they definitely adopted the “Mañana Attitude!” As my Dad would say, they weren’t “sweatin’ the small stuff.” 🙂 It was amazing how they would decide to lay across a busy sidewalk in the middle of rush hour. ~Terri

  3. This is a great post! It’s funny– I notice the stray dogs everywhere I go! For some reason it’s more noticeable when I’m not at home. I remember thinking that Spain had a lot of stray dogs, and then Cambodia, and now China! Stray dogs be eery-where. Thanks for this post though. It’s awesome that there are designated street dogs! Love that. Free birds. Free dogs. You know.

    • Thanks Chloe, you’re so right about seeing stray dogs everywhere. We had lots when we lived in Sudan, but they weren’t very healthy. And I remember all the dogs around when we were in China. The big surprise for us is that Athens’ dogs are wandering around a huge metropolitan city! They’re very traffic-savvy and never wander out in front of cars or motorcycles (an amazing feat in Athens). I like your phrase “designated street dogs” – I guess it’s democracy in action. 🙂 So glad you stopped by. All the best, Terri

  4. This post was very interesting. When I visited Athens that was the first thing that surprised me from the city, but never realized there was a complete story behind that. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Hi Virginia – great to hear from you! We were equally surprised about Athen’s dogs (knowing nothing about their program). Our first thought was “What’s going on here?” so we observed. The dogs were easy-going, minded their own business, not territorial, and basically just lived side by side with everyone else. It was fascinating. Then we read about the Catch and Release Program and the government’s anti-euthanasia stance. It’s a different approach from many other cities. So glad you stopped by. 🙂 ~Terri

      • Hi Terri, I thought the same and actually I’m quite scared of dogs so I wasn’t happy at all. However, as you say, they’re not territorial so it was surprising to see them behaving and walking around. I can’t remember aby other Greek cities with as many dogs as Athens!! Looking forward to catching up with your blog 🙂

    • Great question Dina, and it’s what we asked ourselves when we first moved there. So we paid attention and the results were fascinating. The people who walked their “kept dogs” allowed them to go on the sidewalk and rarely cleaned up after them – but the street cleaners did. However, the “Citizen Dogs” were more doglike. We never saw one go on the sidewalk. They were always looking for a place off the beaten path with grass and trees. So the surprising answer is that dog poop was less of a problem in Athens than we’ve encountered in many other large European cities. Go figure. ~Terri

    • It was definitely a new concept for us Tricia. We’ve been to lots of places that have an abundance of dogs, but never a place with this type of management program. I’m always fascinated by how other societies address their issues – Athens Stray Dog Program is a great study. 🙂 Terri

  5. In a way, they are solving their own problem with the spay/neuter/release program. As more and more dogs get altered, there will be less and less puppies born into street life. I would be a citizen dog! What a life! So much better than being a balcony dog (in my opinion)

    • Great point Laura. We didn’t see a single puppy on the street, so the program must be having some impact. And we did see them picking up dogs without blue or red collars (to enroll them in the Catch and Release program we presumed). The Citizen Dogs seem to have it made – they all looked well-fed and easy going. My heart always went out to the balcony dogs. ~Terri

  6. Your posts always make me smile, but the Ikea dog idea is laugh-out-loud fun! I do have a question about balcony dogs — where do they go to the bathroom? Thanks for sharing your observations. It seems to me they have a dog problem that just keeps growing.

    • Rusha, the Ikea Dogs were hilarious … and all sound asleep! In the South we would probably call them “Porch Dogs” – you know the ones that are always snoozing in the shade under the porch. 🙂

      Although I didn’t envy the Balcony Dogs’ lives, they were well cared for. We could see several Balcony Dogs from our flat and they all had an area of the balcony that they used as their bathroom. The owners then cleaned up after them and kept the area hosed off.

      As Laura (above) pointed out, their active program to spay and neuter the dogs should pay off, resulting in a decreased dog population. We didn’t see any puppies, so that must say something. ~Terri

  7. You’ve introduced a whole new way of looking at dogs. Most of the ones around here would fall into the category of man’s friend.

    • Lulu, the Citizen Dogs definitely seem to consider themselves man’s/woman’s equal – they’re friendly, but not overly so. Basically, they just act independent, not really ready to fetch anyone’s slippers. Almost more cat-like if that’s possible. 🙂 ~Terri

  8. Dogs are a topic close to so many people’s hearts. I love the catch and release program and as you say, it will eventually pay off in less strays. Great idea and use of funds!!

    • Martha, we were totally unfamiliar with the concept and story, so it was fascinating to see it in action. And you’re right – it should pay off in fewer strays, and according to our Veterinarian friend Bronwyn (below) it should also help to contain disease. Sounds pretty win-win to me. 🙂 ~Terri

  9. I love that the government looked after the dogs and re-released them. What a brilliant program. The balcony dogs sound like they would be better escaping and becoming an Athens citizen dog.

    • Holly, I think the Balcony Dogs definitely yearned to become Citizen Dogs – just think of all the pigeons they could chase! 🙂 Seeing the program in action was an eye-opener for us and an interesting way to tackle the situation. So glad you stopped by. ~Terri

  10. We saw lots of dogs on Santorini, Terri, pretty much lazing around as you described. More than dogs, however, we ran into cats everywhere we travelled in the Mediterranean. Do you two follow Animal Couriers? They are constantly in and out of Greece, and many of the animals they carry are strays who have found homes in other European countries.

    When we were in Liberia, dogs adopted us. 🙂 –Curt

    • We definitely noticed lots of dogs and cats throughout the Mediterranean, encountering the biggest cat population when we arrived in Dubrovnik, Croatia. But judging from the plenitude of kittens, I don’t think they have the same program in place. I do follow Animal Couriers and had noticed the number of cats and dogs being transported from Greece.

      And about the dogs in Liberia – you obviously have what we call “dog vibes.” They love you. 🙂 We have them too. ~Terri

      • I would love to have a dog again, Terri, but Peggy and my lifestyle won’t allow it at this time. Do you and James have a dog. I suspect you would face our problem with all of your travel. –Curt

      • Curt, we had a dog when we were first married, and he was great. When the time came to move overseas we didn’t have any pets. We’ve pretty much been on the road since then and haven’t had any pets, but we are always adopted by neighborhood dogs and cats wherever we go. We joke and say that they “rent” us for a while. 🙂 ~T

      • Thus it was with the three dogs in Liberia who belonged to the next door neighbor. They “guarded” our house but required food in compensation. One, Do Your Part, decided she was my dog and followed me every where I went. Best dog I never owned. 🙂 –Curt

    • Thanks Bailey. You would be in heaven in Athens with all the dogs around. We were intrigued by the program and it was so interesting to observe how it worked in real life. So glad that you stopped by. ~Terri

    • Hi Ginette and Gordon! When we arrived in Athens we had come from Rome where you had to watch where you stepped because of what the “Kept Dogs” (and their owners) left behind. We joked that in Athens we had to worry about where we stepped for fear of stepping on a dog lounging on the sidewalk! 🙂 We just had to laugh. So glad that you stopped by. ~Terri

  11. The euthanasia model for strays has problems other than “culture”, which is why the official rabies eradication protocols now use catch and release programs much like the one you talk about (although those collars with the attached bios is pretty upmarket for most programs!).

    The aim is to create a stable population of healthy dogs, which is more effective for disease containment than desperately trying to euthanase animals as fast as they’ll breed and enter the area from neighbouring districts – with all the territorial fighting that encompasses. The euthanasia solution, apart from being resource-intense, ineffective in the medium and long term, and culturally inappropriate in many contexts, also promotes opportunities for diseases to enter the area (opening it to inward migration from neighbouring districts) and transfer (territorial fighting).

    Little add on to that book 🙂

    • Thanks for the informative comment Bronwyn. It’s nice to hear from a professional with facts to support the program’s effectiveness. I had never seen a solution like this, and while seeing dogs all over the place took a bit of getting used to, it seemed to be effective and humane. You brought up a couple of issues that I hadn’t considered (city dog pack rivalries and disease), and this makes the program seem an even better idea. ~James

    • Those Greek philosophers were an interesting lot! 🙂 It’s always fun to go back and see what they REALLY said. And Protest Dog obviously knows where his next meal is coming from – probably not the police! ~Terri

    • Marie, we also had lots of cats when we lived in Sudan. But the most I’ve ever seen was when we arrived in Dubrovnik, Croatia. For cat lovers, that’s the place to go! ~Terri

    • Allane, the good news is that the dogs appear to be healthy and well-fed. As Curt (above) pointed out, Animal Couriers has been helping several people outside Greece adopt street pets from Greece. An interesting idea. 🙂 ~Terri

      • Ohh thats great to know!! And about adopting, yes Ive seen it a lot here in Germany, many people are doing this. Ive wanting to do it for a long time, but at the moment would be hard to have 2 dogs on my apartment! But I wish 🙂

  12. Hi Terri, It was very interesting to read your post. I was born in Athens and lived there for nearly 26 years. I moved abroad in 1996. Those days stray dogs were a sad story. It used to be quite common for Greek parents to get their children cute puppies, only to abandon them later, when they got too big or became too much of a fuss for the family. I was very glad to read that these days the officials care for stray dogs, and that the situation is better. I wonder though whether these programs are implemented only in heavily touristic places. I am sorry to say but I have serious doubts people’s attitudes towards animals have not changed much in Greece. When I lived there, animals were very often mistreated. I also wonder if the “balcony dogs” are ever taken to a park for a stroll, or instead spend their lives miserably tied to their doghouse. I hope I am wrong. Thank you for bringing this issue up!

    • Hi Vasilis, It’s so great to talk with you and learn the background story on the dogs of Athens. You make a great point about pets being abandoned because they “grew up.” I know that happens in the US, and it probably happens all over the world. My travels and living experiences around the world have shown me that every society handles its stray pet challenges differently.

      Athens was my first experience with a city that has such an organized approach to neutering, then releasing the dogs back into the city (although I have seen it with cats). Fortunately, we didn’t see any mistreatment of the dogs – but we did see several people trip over them lying across the downtown sidewalks. Although I can’t speak to the plight of all Balcony Dogs, we could see several from our flat, but we never saw one leave the building. Their balcony was their world. Thanks for the great comment. So glad that you stopped by. All the best, Terri

  13. A lovely post. Been meaning to give our take on the Athens dogs and now have a moment. We sadly see the not so pretty side of Greek strays, both cats and dogs.
    The shelters we deal with are stretched to absolute breaking point. Your story of the street dogs during the Olympics is a success considering what has gone on elsewhere but we suspect the animal charities might tell another tale. Cat charities talk about the street dogs decimating cat colonies they’ve been feeding for years. The dog charities desperately want to get dogs off the streets. It isn’t safe for any animal. We now face bueaucracy beyond belief when trying to take strays out of Greece to guaranteed forever homes. Why on earth would a country with such an animal welfare issue make it harder to rehome the few success stories that come long.
    Sadly we can’t tell it how it is for fear of putting any more power-wielding noses out of joint.

    • I am so glad that you commented. I was really hoping to get your professional opinion on the plight of the stray pets in Athens. You answered so many of the questions that we had when we lived there, but couldn’t find the answers.

      Although we’ve lived abroad and traveled the world for over 30 years, we’d never encountered a large metropolis like Athens with so many strays. Your information about the animal charities is just heartbreaking. And I am stunned that the government doesn’t support your wonderful efforts to take strays out of Greece to new homes. I had seen on your blog that you are woking with organizations and individuals to move the dogs and cats to new homes – that’s fantastic! All animal lovers around the world appreciate your great work. Thanks so much for stopping by and providing more information.

      All the best, Terri

  14. I’m a sucker for dogs anywhere in the world. Like you, I found the comment by the previous poster heartbreaking. One of our daughters fosters until they find a forever home.

  15. Terri, thank you for such a great post on our four legged citizens! We have adopted one [former stray now princess!]. It is true that the majority of people in Greece treat stray dogs as their fellow citizens and many feed them regularly. Just like Loukanikos you mentioned [what a guy!], there are other popular mutts. Many of our friends have also adopted or rescued dogs. Thankfully there is a law now about ‘balcony dogs’ and the police can intervene in cases where the dog is kept for more than a few hours in a balcony. Oh, and lol on the ikea guardians! Something tells me that they started coming as soon as ikea banned smoking inside the building and people were coming out with hot-dogs for a smoke! 😉

    • Thanks Marina – what a great comment! I am so glad to hear about the law for balcony dogs – that’s got to improve their lives. Congratulations to you and your friends who have adopted stray dogs – I imagine that your Princess is one very lucky dog! 🙂 When we lived in Khartoum we adopted a stray cat and named her “Sa-atic” (“Your HIghness”). But my favorite part of your comment is about the Ikea Dogs and the smoking ban. Too funny! ~Terri

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