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.
–> P.s. Like this article :)? Book your next accommodation through Hostelworld.com or Booking.com! Booking through these links won’t cost you anything extra, but it will get me a small commission to keep this website up and running! ~ Thanks! Manouk
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!
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!
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 :)
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!
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 ;)
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.!
Wat een leuke post Manouk, echt top dat je al die honden hebt vastgelegd en dat ze geadopteerd blijken.
Dank Henriette :)!
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!
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 :(!
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.
I agree Natasha :)
I just saw your article – good job. I thought you might like to see my own take on the Greek strays (dogs and cats): https://aristotleguide.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/faq-the-strays-of-greece/. Keep travelling and writing!
Thanks for writing, although as you say, and as others have pointed out, the picture is not rosy. Even while the Athens system lumbers along, many companion animals and animals that work in the tourist industry in Greece are suffering: dogs, cats, and, on Santorini especially, donkeys. There are a lot of great animal welfare groups out there, but I’ll just mention two that are always seeking donations: Santorini Animal Welfare Association (SAWA: https://www.facebook.com/SantoriniAnimalWelfareOrganizationSawa/) cares for dogs and donkeys, mostly; and, in Athens, Nine Lines (http://www.ninelivesgreece.com/) for cats. I haven’t personally interacted with anyone doing dog resuce in Athens, but see Smart Expat.com
I like animals more then i like humans. Humans cause more arm in the world. Take responsibility for your actions.
Just visited Athens and Meteora. Shocked by amount of sick, skinny animals on the streets. In Athens it’s mainly cats, in Meteora both cats and dogs. Saw a group of stray dogs near one train station on the way to Meteora. No one seems to care or try to help them. And they don’t look happy. They look sick. Thank you for mentioning some of the websites. Will contact them.