What’s the deal with all those stray dogs in Athens?

What’s the deal with all those stray dogs in Athens?

Imagine walking around in the streets of Delhi in India… Everywhere you look, cows are wandering the streets, lying on sidewalks and making cars swerve. Now replace Delhi by Athens and cows by dogs. Do you get the picture? 

This article is part of the BoB report series in which we conduct interviews and report about cultural events and local experiences.

Ok, it’s a bit exaggerated, but there are definitely a hell of a lot dogs in Athens. I first noticed them when visiting the Acropolis: big, friendly dogs walking around the ruins or sleeping against pillars.

“What’s the deal with all those stray dogs?” I asked our walking tour guide.

“They are not truly stray dogs.” he answered with a smile. “They have been adopted by the City of Athens. A few years ago we had a street dog problem and it came down to two options: catch them (and after 90 days shoot them) or adopt them. Adopting them seemed the most humane thing to do.

Stray dog at the temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens. ©Bunch of Backpackers.
Stray dog at the temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

I had never heard of such a thing before and I was positively surprised. The adoption /protection program was implemented in 2003, and before this stray dogs were caught and rounded up by dog catchers. However, when an animal rights activist group visited one of the shelters and saw the miserable conditions of the dogs, they went public. After this, dog catchers were fired and shelters were closed, leading to more stray dogs and eventually to this program.

On a side note: In the summer of 2004 a disrupting story circulated that prior to the Olympics of 2004 thousands of dogs would be and have been poisoned by the Greek government. Until today, this is still denied by the Greek authorities. 

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Stray dog sleeping in a small shopping arcade. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

Continuing his story, the guide explained that nowadays many dogs are sterilized, get regular check-ups and are given a collar which contains some information about the dog. It’s the job of the people of Athens to ensure all dogs are well-fed. Well… well-fed they definitely were and I’d even say most of them were overweight.

The people of Athens seemed to get along really well with the dogs of Athens. I saw a gardener at Hadrian’s library play with one of the dogs and afterwards give him some water, while another dog seemed to have its own spot next to the chair of a friendly shop-owner. The dogs of Athens are clearly used to people and they tend to look for their company.

Still, although they seemed good-natured and well-behaved, I wondered how they behave at night. I remember the street dogs in Peru were friendly during the day, but at night they became dangerous, unpredictable and ‘wild‘. That being said, during my four nights in Athens (which is obviously not very representative) I did not encounter this.

Street dog Athens
Street dog casually resting against an Athens pillar. They never pay any entrance fees.

In preparation of this post I read a few other articles on stray dogs in Athens (I particularly like this article) and I found out that -as always- things are not as rosy at they may have seemed. The articles state that in Greece it is (hopefully was) more common to dump pets on the streets once the owners get bored of them and neutering is often found unnatural. Both of these problems contribute to the large number of stray dogs.

They conclude there are just too many dogs and too few dog care-takers. Outside the city centre of Athens, there are many more stray dogs which are apparently less (or maybe not even at all) taken care of. I also saw a few dogs limping and I wonder if these dogs will receive medical care.

Street dog in Athens.
Stray dog at the Ancient Agora of Athens. ©Bunch of Backpackers.

So, how to help? Suggestions range from feeding them, donate money and in this article it’s even suggested to help by actually adopting a dog. I also personally feel every dog deserves a home, even though some may argue that these dogs are better off being ‘free’.

In any case I still love the idea of a city adopting its street dogs. Some say the Athens dogs constitute a bad publicity for the city. I’d like to disagree. I think adopting them, instead of shooting them says something about a society. It’s a beautiful thing that the people of Athens together try to take care of ‘their‘ dogs.

How do you feel about the stray dogs in Athens? Do you find it dangerous? Noble? 

Meet 'travel mastermind' Manouk: a 29-year-old sassy girl from Rotterdam, the Netherlands. With BoB she inspires you to explore the world, meet the unexpected and follow your dreams. Happy travels!

20 COMMENTS

  1. Great post – I love this! Seeing all those dogs would make me so happy. I’m in Morocco right now and there are cats everywhere. But what I love so much is that everyone seems to feed and take care of them. Shop keepers leave kibble out and I often see people leave leftovers out on plates. And giant cow legs that I saw 6 cats gnawing on. I wasn’t such of big fan of that!

    • Thank you so much for reading Emiko! I also loved seeing that people took care of the dogs together Great to know that happens in more places around the world :)! It’s a small thing (except for the giant cow legs), but a big gesture! Enjoy Marocco!

  2. Personally I feel that this policy of ‘adopting’ is just keeping the issue at arms length instead of anyone actually taking responsibility of the problem and dealing with it. As you mentioned, these dogs aren’t receiving health care or a regular diet and in that way are no different to the stray dogs you saw in Peru or we saw throughout South East Asia.

    Clearly you did a great amount of research and you’re quite aware of the problem, I just feel that this policy of ‘adopting’ is just an excuse to save the money they would have spent on shelters and putting these animals down.

    • Hi Dale! Thank you for reading. They actually do give them health care and food (https://www.cityofathens.gr/en/stray-animals-0), but I’m afraid they can’t reach all dogs. So, I think the city of Athens is trying to take care of it in their own specific way, but just doesn’t have the funds to do it properly. As Yara mentioned in the comment below the problem seemed to have become smaller which is a good thing :)

      For me, I think in the end shelters will be better, but I’d be in favor of the so-called ‘no-kill shelters’. These shelters would have to have good living conditions for the dogs and of course there have to be people available to adopt them. So, to do this you would need two things: a general change in society (in having pets and how to take care of them) and loads of money. Two things that are quite impossible to achieve in a short amount of time! So, in my opinion I think they are doing the best they can with limited resources available :)

  3. What a beautiful article Manouk! When I first visited Athens 12 years ago, the city was literally swamped with stray dogs. I was a bit overwhelmed with the amount of abandoned dogs. This time, there’s only a tiny fraction of strays, I barely noticed them, they are so few compared to my previous visit.

    The Athens strays are docile, well taken care of and I love them! I’m glad they’re not ending up in death-row type of shelters. Still, I know for a fact the lots of animals get dumped on the streets once their owners decide not to care for them anymore. This happens in basically all southern European countries, like Spain and Portugal and it’s the reason I ended up adopting 6 strays, some rescued from the streets, some from death row shelters a couple of days before they’d get killed.

    • Hi Yara! Thanks for your comment(s) :) I’m glad to hear that there are already less stray dogs in Athens compared to a couple of a years ago. It’s definitely a sad thing (and this also happens in the Netherlands of course) that people easily dump animals once they get bored of this. Creating more awareness would definitely help. I’m also very happy to hear you actually adopted 6 strays!! Haha, I don’t think I will adopt a stray, but I hope I can help a little bit with this article!

  4. I’m 100% per cent against dog shelters and euthanasia for street animals. Humans have a tendency to not being able to share any space with other living beings. I love the street cat colonies and I believe a lot of dogs are better off in the street.

    • Yes, I understand why you would be against dog shelters. However, if you don’t have the funds to feed all dogs and sterilize them the stray dog problem can become overwhelming and I think they will be off worse. It’s definitely a difficult problem ;)

  5. It’s not as easy as it was explained to you – as you rightly say, not as rosey. Yes, some dogs have been adopted by the city of Athens. Generally speaking, there is a huge issue with strays as people do not sterilize (for a variety of reasons) then dump the puppies. We have similar issues in Italy, and shelters are crowded and under-funded. Rome, for example, is famous for its cat colonies. There are a number of them in several archeological sites. They survive thanks to donations, as the city council doesn’t provide a single cent, not even to sterilize them through the public health care system (which should be implemented for animals too). What can we do to help? Donations; adoptions (even “distance adoption” whereby you pay a monthly fee to support the dog and someone else is in charge of taking care) and most of all, campaign and be an advocate for sterilizations of home pets and strays. :)

    • Hi Claudia, yes I guess this problem is present all over the world and the basic message is: too many animals, too little funds to help them. I think you’re right and donations of individuals would greatly help and also to create awareness about sterilization, long-term commitment etc.!

  6. I also noted that there where dogs everywhere in athens. Even have a picture of the same sleeping dog in the small alley. Never had the idea to do some research, but find it very interesting that you did. Altough the dogs did look happy I think the best solution would also be the hardest. Now it is to easy for people to dump there dog as “someone” will take care of them.

    • Hi Tikva! Thanks! I was curious to found out what the deal was ;)! But yeah, that was also mentioned in one the articles ‘it’s too easy to dump a dog’ :S!

  7. It’s not just Athens, we saw a lot of stray dogs on Santorini, too. One of them adopted me in Oia, following me around the streets and into stores. It even waited outside a public toilet for me and eventually followed me onto the bus. We were both pretty sad when the driver chased him off.

    I’d heard before that the dogs belonged to the people of Greece, but wasn’t sure exactly what that entailed. I’d always rather the animals be kept inside a warm, safe, and loving home, but at least they are being fed and well-treated.

    • Hi Heather, yes I only visited Athens, but apparently they are stray dogs all over Greece! When I was in Peru, we also had a dog following us around. At one point we had to go back into the city and it was so sad to leave him behind :(!

  8. I think this speaks volumes about how humane a society is. In many cities around the world, street dogs are treated very cruelly. I am pleasantly surprised to hear that the city takes care of the dogs and they are well fed.

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