Ten years ago I read in horror that the barbarian Greek city planners were planning to round up and poison the thousands of stray dogs that roamed the streets of Athens ahead of the 2004 Olympics. I began writing letters and mobilizing those around me to protest.
Facebook was in its infancy then and the only way to protest was to make phone calls, send text messages… and I did a lot of that. I was living in Greece at the time and remember the dozens of calls and emails I sent and visits to various offices to try and make a difference.
There were a lot of media reports stating what the Greeks “were planning” to do and I’m certain— knowing the mentality of some people I have met in Greece regarding dogs— that this was the original plan.
Then the world protested. The Greek Olympic organizers, government officials and local municipalities received angry protests from throughout the world— including from me.
The plans (albeit unofficial) to poison the Athenian strays were quickly changed to a mass round up, followed by tagging, spaying/neutering of the helpless animals who had made the Athenian streets their homes for generations.
Carried out in cooperation with the Greek Ministry of Agriculture, municipal authorities where athletic events were taking place, the Panhellenic Federation of Veterinarians, and the Federation of Greek Animal Protection Societies representing the 38 cooperating Greek animal welfare organizations, the initiative rejected euthanasia as a solution for stray animals.
The Church of Greece even got involved and donated a huge tract of land outside of Athens that was used to house and vaccinate the animals.
In the end, there were no mass poisonings. There were round ups, there was a lot of documenting and tagging, and a lot of surgeries to prevent these dogs from continued over-population. Many of the dogs— over 1000— were adopted by good households abroad. After the Olympics, many of the dogs were sent back to their original neighborhoods— including Betty, the beautiful, stately dog that stands guard at the Grande Bretagne Hotel and has welcomed me for years.
Of course, the Greek mentality is still years behind where we “civilized” Westerners (that was said sarcastically, BTW) with regards to how people should treat animals. But problems exist everywhere— in Chicago’s inner city where dog-fighting is an everyday occurrence and in the New York City pound where tens of thousands of healthy animals are “euthanized” every year.
Today, the Russians in Sochi are planning to round up their strays. They have called them biological trash and plan a mass killing of these helpless creatures. Something tells me the Russians will not be so open to alternatives, the way the Greeks were. After all, they want to do the same to their gays and lesbians— fellow humans.
But we can protest… and hope and we can take part in the international movement to #BoycottSochi the same way I have.