Without the hard-working, passionate workers and volunteers of the Animal Welfare Group of Voula, most of the dogs and cats in the area would never have the opportunity of being rescued, taken care of or have the opportunity of finding a new home. Here in a frank interview, I talked to some of its members for an in-depth look at working in animal rescue.

Can we start with a little background information regarding the Animal Welfare Group of Voula? When was it established and what kind of help does it provide for stray animals?
Well, the group was established 3 ½ years ago with only a few compassionate volunteers from the Panorama area of Voula. We provide the stray animals with medical care as many of them are found sick, which means getting them checked over by a vet and a number of health tests. They are of course, bathed and fed before they are given temporary homes whilst we look for their owners or they are adopted. Members of our group who are not actively involved in taking care of the strays donate food and anything else that is required to make their lives better.

How do you go about tracing an owner and what happens to a stray in the meantime?
First, we check to see if it has a microchip so that we can contact the owner to see whether it is being missed or has actually been abandoned. If there isn’t a microchip, we take photos and make an album with details of where and when it was found and upload this information daily through the social media hoping that the owner or someone might recognise the animal. We also inform the police and local vets in case the dog or cat has been reported missing. In the meantime, we ask members of the group if they can offer a temporary home which is not always easy. If we cannot find accommodation, we put the animal in a shelter at our expense.

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With thousands of dogs and cats being abandoned in Greece each year,  how many strays would you say your group has rescued in East Attica?
Quite a few. At the very beginning, we were finding very sick dogs and cats on the streets. In fact, 3 dogs were so sick, it took our volunteers about 6 months to save them. The past 1 ½ year, as more animals are being abandoned, the group has expanded and we have 4 new volunteers helping strays over all of Voula.

Most people who abandon their dogs and cats have not understood how much responsibility is needed to take care of a pet

What about spay and neutering? Does the group take responsibility for this and have you instituted micro-chipping too, which I believe is the standard law along with electronically registering them?
Well, the Vari Vouliagmeni Voula council plays a large part in sterilising, vaccinating and microchipping as many strays as they can. Also, volunteers of the Animal Welfare Group of Voula have also taken on the responsibility at times plus we encourage first-time pet owners to do it immediately as it is relatively inexpensive compared to the consequences of not assuming responsibility. The main problem we find comes from Vari, especially these past few years as the economic crisis worsens in Greece. Pet owners themselves cannot afford to sterilise their pets resulting in them breeding and multiplying when left out to wander freely on the streets. These animals are not strays at all, but result in puppies and kittens being cruelly dumped in the future because these pet owners have not thought about finding homes for them in advance. The circle continues….

Talking of abandonment, why do you think people abandon their pets?
It boils down to education. Most people who abandon their dogs and cats have not understood how much responsibility is needed to take care of a pet, how to bring a puppy or kitten up or how much attention the animal will need, for example, exercise and play time. Sometimes, it can be a result of animal behavioural problems, an owner becomes sick or their family circumstances change, they give their pets up because they think it is the only possible solution. Some vets in Greece are partly to blame too because they mistakenly inform owners that females must have at least one litter during their lives. On a brighter note, some stray animals that we have found were not abandoned, but simply lost and luckily we were able to return them to their owners.

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Do you have to deal with abused animals and is there a way of tracking down their owners to report them?
Sadly, we do come across such cases and if we do know who the owners are, we visit them to discuss why this is happening and explain the laws and penalties to them in a calm and reasonable way. We then keep an eye on the animal for some time afterwards to make sure that it is not suffering. However, with strong cases of abuse, we contact the police straight away for them to take action.

We encourage all new owners to keep in contact with us and to send a photo or video of their new pet enjoying its new life, as well as letting them know we will drop by in future weeks to see how they are all getting on.

Is there a particular procedure for adopting one of the animals that the group has rescued?
We, of course, welcome people who are interested in adoption and talk to the individuals to see if they seem like responsible pet owners. We visit their homes and if everything points to the dog or cat going to a loving home, we let the people keep it for 20 days to see if both the animal and the potential owner has adjusted to the new situation. After that, if everything is fine, they can then sign the adoption papers. We encourage all new owners to keep in contact with us and to send a photo or video of their new pet enjoying its new life, as well as letting them know we will drop by in future weeks to see how they are all getting on.

Do you think it is difficult in Greece to make people aware of what is responsible pet ownership?
Unfortunately, in Greece, young people are still not being educated enough regarding taking care of animals and about the plight of helpless strays. Many children are not taught to respect them or are interested in helping them. That does not mean taking a stray home with them, but at least they should think about finding food for them or be informing an adult that they have seen an animal who needs help. Although lately, we have seen a larger percent of people helping strays, if the younger generation is not influenced at a young age to be compassionate, it will be very difficult in the future for them to understand why animals are important.

What do you believe is a common misconception people have about stray animals?
A common misconception is that all strays are dirty and aggressive. This makes people afraid of them and think they will be bitten or catch a disease, which is not always the case.
The stray, on the other hand, will most likely be suspicious of strangers especially, if they have been abused, but at the end of the day, would love someone to show them kindness and return to a loving home.

More citizens of Vari Voula Vouliagmeni have started to help our group and if they come across a stray in the neighbourhood, they contact us immediately.

What improvements have you seen in Voula and the surrounding neighborhoods in terms of animal welfare?
More citizens of Vari Voula Vouliagmeni have started to help our group and if they come across a stray in the neighbourhood, they contact us immediately. They go out of their way to leave food out for them and help pay for medicines, sterilisation and vet expenses. More individuals are offering accommodation when necessary too and are keeping up to date with what is going on with our Facebook page. With 1800 friends following us on there and the group bringing attention to strays, animal welfare is becoming  a more growing concern.

Finally, is there anything else you would like to add about animal welfare or regarding the Animal Welfare Group of Voula?
Well, we hope one day to implement an animal welfare programme in schools so that the younger generation will learn more about the plight of stray animals. Maybe they will see the struggle that they have trying to survive on the streets, and there will be less strays suffering on the streets.

You can follow Animal Welfare Group of Voula through their Facebook page

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*Featured image is courtesy of International Fund of Animal Welfare