Imagine walking around 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? So, what is the deal with all those stray dogs in Athens?
Update: January 2023
This article is part of the BoB report series in which we conduct interviews and report about cultural events and local experiences.
Stray dogs in Athens
Ok, it’s a bit exaggerated, but there are definitely a hell of a lot of dogs in Athens. The current estimation is roughly 2 million dogs (and cats). 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.“
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 stray dogs in Greece would be and have been poisoned by the Greek government. Until today, this is still denied by the Greek authorities.
Living together with the stray dogs
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 stray dogs of Athens. I saw a gardener at Hadrian’s library play with one of the dogs and afterward 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.
Are the stray dogs of Athens dangerous?
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.
Update 2018: A recent article by BBC states there are now about 1 million stray cats and dogs in Greece. This article also reports two attacks by stray dogs on people. In one of the cases, a woman was apparently mauled to death in Northern Greece. Although the report mentions, attacks occur frequently, there are no official numbers.
Update 2021: A recent article by the Guardian states there are now about 2 millions stray cats and dogs. The plan is mandatory neutering.
Update 2022: The Greek government implemented new laws concerning animal welfare. Read more about them here.
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 article 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. The financial crisis also allegedly contributed to the increase.
The authors of this article conclude there are just too many dogs and too few dog care-takers. Outside the city center 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.
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How to help the dogs of Athens?
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 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?
Going to Athens? You may also like:
How to take the bus to from Athens to Temple of Poseidon
My stay at the Hera Hotel in Athens
Best day trips from Athens to do yourself!