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!
The Greeks loved their pets so much that they wanted to be portrayed with them on their tombstones.
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.
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.
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.
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!
4. Protest Dogs
Meet Loukanikos, the Riot Dog, King of the Citizen Dogs. (His name means “Sausage” in Greek!) He was 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 was their faithful companion, always taking the side of the Protesters, and is ready to do battle on their behalf.
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!
Did someone say “Squirrel?”