Greek Tragedy Over Stray Cats & Dogs
From the Athens Daily News:
The city park was oddly quiet on New Year's Day. The activists who regularly cared for the large population of stray dogs and cats in Athens' national gardens strolled through the palms and lush bushes with sacks of food, but they didn't see any of the creatures.
Then they found one dead animal... and another... then more.
Nearly 60 lifeless cats and dogs were strewn about - all poisoned.
No culprits have been found, but suspicion fell on city officials worried about Athens' image as Greece assumed the six-month European Union presidency on the 1st of January.
Animal lovers fear it could be a glimpse of what's ahead as Athens spruces up for an even bigger event, the 2004 Olympics. Activists have started to call attention to the plight of strays in Greece, where animal control efforts have been weak and pets are often left to run wild when owners tire of them.
"Certainly following this incident, it's obvious that we really are concerned about what will happen in 2004," said Carol McBeth, a representative of the Greek Animal Welfare Fund.
Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos - a top Olympics organizer - promised an investigation into the poisoning. But he insisted no agency or ministry involved with the Olympics was responsible.
"I call on the responsible authorities... to intervene, punish and prevent," Venizelos said.
Two weeks after the poisonings, thousands of protesters marched from the gardens to parliament. In a country where few people care about strays, the demonstration was unprecedented in size.
"Never has Greece seen such an impressive and angry gathering of animal lovers," the daily newspaper Eleftherotypia said in an editorial. "One can easily imagine what is being planned for the eve of the 2004 Olympics."
An international coalition of activists - called Protection of Animals Worldwide - set up a petition on the Internet calling on the Greek government to stop mass poisonings before the Olympics.
Activists also plan in May to stage simultaneous protest marches around the world in support of Greece's strays, which are so numerous they roam in packs through central Athens and linger around outdoor cafes for table scraps.
Organizers of the 2004 Games also condemned the act and said they would work with Greece's Agriculture Ministry to find a solution to control the strays.
"We strongly believe that solutions must be found to improve this issue and make our society more conscious and aware of the problem of stray animals," said 2004 spokesman Seraphim Kotrotsos. "Poisoning stray animals is inhumane and unacceptable."
Angry activists complain that little is being done to catch people who kill strays with a lethal mixture of pet food and pesticide that is so common it even has a name in Greek - "fola," or poison-ball.
For the past 10 years, the group Friends of the Cat have fed, vaccinated and neutered the cats that roamed the national gardens. The animals are used to eating from little piles of food left for them.
According to Magda Tornazaki, who found many of the dead animals, 40 cats and 18 dogs were killed in the national gardens alone. She believes there were similar poisonings in other areas.
The government is enacting legislation to collect, tag, vaccinate and find a home for strays. But Deputy Agriculture Minister Fotis Hatzimihalis said the legislation was not related to an effort to clean up Athens for the Olympics.
"Greece will not lead stray animals to crematoriums and slaughter houses because of the Olympic Games," he said.
Deputy Athens Mayor Tonya Kanellopoulou said city hall has been working with animal activists to create an agency that could look after strays. She also hopes to be able to change public attitudes about unwanted pets and strays before the start of the Olympics.
"We are trying to stop the phenomenon which, unfortunately, we see these days," she said.
Who to write to:
Prime Minister Costas Simitis - E-mail: email@example.com
Minister of Agriculture Mr. Georgios Drys - E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Minister of Tourism Mr. Dimitrios Georgarakis - E-mail: email@example.com
Athens 2004 organizers website: www.athens2004.gr
Protection of Animals Worldwide website: www.paw-europe.com
Greek Agriculture Ministry website: www.minagric.gr
Please sign the online petition at: www.petitiononline.com/OG2004/