A team of Michigan-based volunteers has worked tirelessly to find forever homes for abandoned and stray dogs, all the way from Greece, to homes throughout the United States.
Above and Beyond English Setter Rescue has rescued more than 1,500 dogs from Greece and other European countries in the last few years alone.
The animal welfare organization has partnered with shelters in Greece and is focusing on the epidemic of abandoned hunting dogs.
According to statistics, there are approximately one million stray dogs in Greece.
The number of stray dogs is shocking to most westerners who visit Greece who aren’t used to seeing animals roaming urban streets. The problem is worse in the countryside and on islands, where farmers and hunters often abandon dogs after the hunting season.
In the tourist areas, it’s common to see healthy-looking strays roaming resort towns and tourist islands during the season when they are taken care of by restaurant owners and tourists who provide food.
These same animals are often left to starve during the winter months when hotels close for the season and the tourist season comes to an end.
In Greek rural areas, the stray population also increases after every hunting season as hunters abandon their dogs once they are finished using them and they no longer serve a purpose.
The problem is more acute for larger, hunting dogs, which aren’t popular as pets, according to Jennifer Cloherty, international transport coordinator for Above and Beyond, which focuses on saving these kinds of dogs.
“There may be adoption for some dogs, but usually small, white, fluffy dogs. The hunting dogs, the shepherd dogs they’re considered working dogs, outside dogs—they never go inside a home in Greece… So dogs like that have very little chance to get adopted here, so they have to find a place in Europe or the US or they have nowhere to go.”
The Detroit-based organization has upwards of 40 dogs on standby in Greece, ready to travel.
They’ve been tended to by a team of dedicated people there– often staying in a special “boot camp” for upwards of two months, preparing them for travel and tending to any medical needs.
According to Maria Sougra, who handles Greece-based operations for the group “…most dogs stay with us for 1-2 months to be healthy and sociable so they can travel abroad. They come to us traumatized mentally and physically, and they leave us healthy. With love and care, animals can get over anything.”
After landing in Detroit, the lucky dogs are shepherded through the second half of their journey by a host of dedicated dog lovers.
Their new life starts at Cloherty’s home in Temperance, MI, which serves as a temporary base camp for the Greek rescues before they are ready for transport to other states where dogs meet their new families.
The organization has placed dogs in 49 out of the fifty United States, Washington DC and throughout Canada– with great success. On any given month, upwards of two dozen are available for adoption and in the process of transport to the United States.
Images of the dogs are posted online and requests come from all over with fees paid for by the adopting families.
What do they get in return? A new member of the family who gives unconditional love and gratitude, lots of tail wagging and optional licks.