Regular visitors to the CTG message boards will be aware that the care and management of stray animals is a recurrent theme. These pages are intended to give anyone concerned, or just interested, information about the situation on Corfu including what you the tourist or resident can do to make the lives of these animals easier.
People visiting Corfu frequently express concern at the number of stray animals on Corfu and the perceived ill-treatment of many of them. Undoubtedly there are many instances of deliberate cruelty on Corfu, as indeed there are in every country. However, what may appear cruel can sometimes merely reflect different attitudes towards animals and the role of those animals in society, rather than the actions of uncaring people.
Many Corfiots keep cats and dogs but not in the way that foreign visitors to the island might consider adequate. This is because whilst they have a role to play in the household they do not have the same emotional place in the heart of it as they might in other cultures even within Greece. Corfu is a largely rural island and animals tend to have to earn their keep in a traditional way. Dogs are left tied up outside, often close to chickens in order to scare off birds of prey or predatory mammals, whilst cats keep down the mice and rats which are attracted by chicken feed or unemptied bins. Both cats and dogs will often be fed on scraps from the house. It is highly unlikely that they will be vaccinated. They will not be treated for fleas and worms, or protected from ticks and sand flies which spread so many potentially fatal diseases. They will not be spayed or neutered. Even in the many cases where people like, even love, their animals they may still be treated in this same manner. These apparent omissions in animal care are not necessarily indications of disregard, although sadly they are sometimes. Frequently, it is the result of a combination of lack of money, lack of knowledge and the fatalistic attitude common to many people.
The truth is that keeping a dog or a cat as a pet is a luxury and as such is something that many Corfiots cannot afford, even if they wanted to. Some of those who do keep dogs as pets, have no idea what they are taking on or the expense involved. As happens elsewhere, once an animal has gone from a small fluffy bundle to an excitable young dog that chews everything, requires food and attention, then it may well find itself out on the street. For those who can afford to keep a pet, things can still turn out badly, particularly for dogs. The animal may still be kept outside, they will still not be neutered and females will be at risk from passing males. Some may be lucky enough to have a flea collar but only the most expensive products protect against the fatal diseases carried in particular by sandflies. Indeed many people arent even aware of this risk, and this includes foreigners who have moved to the island. Sadly, expensive or exotic animals can be seen as something of a status symbol and people may rush to buy an expensive dog without giving a thought for how large it may grow, or its adult behaviour which may become quite neurotic if the animal is restrained all the time. In the last six months a Bull Mastiff, a Dalmatian and a Sharpei have been found abandoned. Large male dogs are notoriously difficult to re-home.
How can you tell a stray?
It is very easy to think that all the dogs and cats wandering around Corfu are strays, but not all of them will be, far from it. No one wants to rescue an animal that belongs to, and is cared for by, someone else. So, how can you judge which are strays and which arent?
Cats on Corfu tend to be much smaller and leaner than their northern European counterparts and thus may look less cared for even when they have good homes. Genuinely feral cats will avoid human touch even if they come to feed regularly. Ones that have been thrown out will still be fairly domesticated unless they were abandoned as kittens. Litters of domesticated cats also tend to be friendlier and will often be less able to look after themselves. Fortunately they do get taken in by kind people but will frequently be found suffering malnutrition with the resulting skin problems and infections.
As for dogs, as a rule of thumb, any dog found wandering with a collar on will usually tend to have an owner somewhere and there are many such dogs about town. Although they run the risk of getting run over they are let out to roam and will look reasonably well fed. Very often, particularly during thunderstorms, dogs simply escape and will be seen trailing a length of chain. Mostly they will return home once they have enjoyed a spell of freedom. However, a young dog with rope or wire around the neck with a frayed piece attached will probably be one that has been thrown out. Serious owners will usually use collars, and chains in preference to ropes which are easily chewed through. However, there are exceptions. Dogs do also accidentally get lost and unfortunately collars rarely have tags. Owned dogs are supposed to be microchipped, but this is not enforced. Rabies vaccinations are also compulsory for pet dogs but many will be unaware of this or will not be able to afford it, or will not care, particularly if they know that Greece has declared itself to be free of rabies since 1999.
A dog with a home will eventually go home unless it is lost. If a dog is lost the owners may advertise locally on telegraph poles or on the supermarket door so if you find a dog you think may not be the stray it seems, ask around or leave a notice yourselves if you decide to take it in saying you have found a dog and where it is. Generally speaking, genuinely stray dogs are often collarless, underfed, may be desperate to be friendly but extremely cowed and nervous depending on the treatment they have had and if you feed them and they hang around all the time they presumably have no other source of food. Others will act like feral cats and avoid human contact. If a dog is nervous leave it alone, particularly if it flattens its ears or bares its teeth. The stray dogs are very unlikely to bite unless they feel threatened.
It is nice to see that sometimes stray dogs are adopted by a community or by workers at premises close to where a dog may be living. These dogs will also be collarless but will look in better health as they are fed and will have minor ailments treated by local people.
It is easy to see how problems with animal welfare start. Any animal left outside, whether tied up or wandering free, whether a pet or a working animal, is bound to be vulnerable to pests and associated diseases unless it is regularly wormed, vaccinated and given preventative collars or drops for fleas, ticks and sandflies. Strays, which have to scavenge for food, are vulnerable to cruel methods of removal by those who dont want them in their vicinity. Even those which have been adopted by some members of a community can suffer this fate simply because no one clears up after the dogs, and other less tolerant residents may be angered at the mess or fearful because the excretia from unwormed animals can have serious consequences for humans.
Females in season will be vulnerable to males of their species. Those who frequently give birth (cats, up to three times a year) will be left malnourished and more prone to disease, as will their litters. Even in domestic situations where animals have owners things may not be much better. Very often puppies are removed from their mother at birth and destroyed before they even open their eyes, leaving just one to take the milk. Once these are old enough to fend for themselves responsible owners will try to find a home for the pup, less fortunate animals may be dumped or quite literally kicked out time and again until they no longer dare attempt to return. People, who are aware of any rescue organisations and can be bothered to do so, may drop dogs off there. Foreign residents may find dogs abandoned on their doorsteps simply because local people know that certain nationalities have a reputation for liking animals. Less fortunate animals, including those who are old and sick, may just be dumped far from their homes.
Puppies will often be found abandoned by the side of the road, frequently close to the rubbish bins, on occasions the entire litter will be left there with their mother. That sounds horrendously cruel but the intention is not to leave them for the bin men to dispose of along with the rubbish. A logiccan be seen behind strategic dumping: some kind hearted person is more likely to find the animals if they are near a busy road or close to the community bins. Also, where there is a bin there is food to scavenge and the animals will not starve. The hope that these animals will be found is often evident in that they are sometimes left with some form of shelter and a bowl of water to tide them over. It isnt cruelty that leads people to do this but necessity. Sometimes owners cannot afford the upkeep or do not need more than one dog but cannot afford to neuter the animals they do have. They may also be unaware that there is an animal rescue charity or if they do know, may be unable or reluctant to contact them.
With cats it is different. Their kittens are usually born away from people and there is less likelihood of some being removed at birth. Not all of them will survive by any means but even young malnourished animals will be capable of producing a litter themselves very quickly. Kittens do however get abandoned too, some wont even be old enough to leave their mothers. Many will be weak and die before they are found. Others may get taken in by kindly rescuers, for some it is too late and they also die. Others will survive, those in the wild will certainly soon be breeding themselves, and the mother whom they were taken from not that long ago will soon fall pregnant again. And so it goes on.
Stray animals will tend to scavenge near tourist centres and bins where they may be very unwelcome because of the dirt and disease. Unfortunately, where there is a food source many scavengers will gather and plenty will be carrying diseases for which their species and others will have no natural immunity, particular when malnutrition leaves them weak and vulnerable to infection.
Sadly there are cases of deliberate poisoning of cats and dogs. Undoubtedly their sheer numbers may result in them being regarded as pests. Arguably though, many of these incidents particularly where cats are concerned, are not deliberate but an unfortunate result of the popularity of poison as a means of controlling rats and mice. Once a rat or mouse (or even hedgehog) has eaten poisoned food death is not immediate. They will go away, their reactions will slow and they become easy prey for cats who then ingest the poison themselves through their food chain. Death is not quick for them either.
Help at Hand?
It is a harsh reality that animals everywhere suffer for many reasons and from many causes. So what are people on Corfu doing to help the stray populations? Indeed are there people who want to help? The answer is yes, there are, and in contrast to popular perceptions, many of these are Greeks, many others are foreign residents others are visitors. There are animal rescue organisations and charities on Corfu that are working hard for animal welfare but tourists are often simply unaware of them. The profile of animal charities is low anyway because Greece is not the UK: priorities and attitudes are different. Do not take this to mean that the Greeks do not care about animals, a great many do but they do as a whole tend to get a bad press. As is so often the case elsewhere, good news is no news: many kind acts take place in the private sphere but inevitably, it is the acts of cruelty that command the publics attention.
It is not an easy matter trying to operate a charity. First the scale of the problem on Corfu can seem overwhelming. There is a lot of goodwill and support for the organisations that do operate but unfortunately it might be argued that when these become well-known and established they can become less effective because they are subject to increased scrutiny. Bureaucracy has to be complied with, diplomacy is required, and hands are often tied. Furthermore, when there are various options for consideration there can also be differing views as to what is the most effective way forward, particularly when those in control come from different cultural backgrounds. On the other hand, when the organisation is small, there is the problem of isolation, a less effective negotiating platform and it is hard to get noticed and attract funds.
For Corfu, the overall situation may be less than perfect but the charitable organisations that do exist on Corfu do their best, not only to help cats and dogs, but also donkeys, horses, and birds of prey. The situation would be a lot worse without them. Many of these organisations are privately run: effectively they are networks of like-minded individuals who work separately and together. It is not easy though. At least one privately run dog rescue centre is managing to function but it is a struggle. This place is a God-send for stray dogs. Those that can be re-homed are, those that for whatever reason cant be, typically old or large males, are given a home here. It may not be ideal but the animals are safe, fed, cared for and loved.
Yet another small operation devotes itself to looking after the donkey population. This is hard work physically and emotionally, some cases of neglect are heartbreaking. Again it isnt always a result of deliberate unkindness, sometimes just a lack of understanding of an animal's basic requirements. A lot of tact, diplomacy and an understanding of the Greek view of things, is required if one is to help or rescue these animals. Donkeys that are old or unwanted also get dumped. At the moment Judy has 27 donkeys at the shelter, hopefully 10-15 will be sent to the UK in Spring, but she doubts whether that many will be fit to travel. Most are very old and weak, and the younger ones, like Ira and Shine could never cope with the journey.
On an even smaller scale, there are lots of people who go out and feed strays, take in sick or wounded animals, foster puppies which cannot go to the rescue centre either because it is full or the puppies are too susceptible to diseases which at times break out in such places.
Finally, there is also help from outside Greece. Sometimes the larger European Charities send over vets to places in Greece to neuter strays and tend to their wounds and diseases. Now and again Corfu has also benefited from these visits which have to be formally arranged with the local veterinary association and there are strict guidelines as to exactly which animals can be treated to avoid the vets on the island losing business. These visits are expensive to arrange and a lot of persistence and diplomacy is required but the impact is huge. In just one short visit around 70 stray dogs and cats might be treated, not just neutering operations but infections, and other minor problems are dealt with. In one instance a stray cat had cancerous growths on the tips of her ears removed. Sadly for some animals there is no hope but at least they are humanely are put to sleep.
What you can do to help.
Whilst there is a lot being done to help animals on Corfu more help is always required. Often though it is hard to know what one can do and where to start. This is particularly so when visitors are first confronted with the scale of the problem on Corfu. Even those who have been helping out for years feel despairing and at times angry at what cannot be changed.
So what can you do? Firstly and this can be hard, try not to feed the strays at tavernas or hotels and apartments. A lot of people wont like cats or may simply be allergic to them, others may be scared of dogs roaming around. Their views need to be respected and of course if the owners of the tavernas etc. feel the strays are keeping people away, this may become a problem for those animals. If you want to feed the animals, then take some food to a place away from where visitors gather to eat so that the animals learn not to expect food from the tables. Very often taverna owners will feed the animals out the back at certain times but they may not appreciate you feeding them out the front so please bear this in mind.
As for not feeding the animals at all there are arguments for and against at least as far as cats are concerned. Cats, that are left to fend entirely for themselves, may well be more successful at staying alive than those who are fed by tourists or kindly taverna owners during the summer. They learn how to hunt and scavenge whereas those fed by humans develop a degree of dependency which may leave them less well-equipped to face the long months when the tavernas are closed and the tourists are gone. On the other hand, animals which are well fed, may have stronger immune systems and leave them more resilient to the viruses that run through cat populations. The question is made more complex because there are a lot of rats and mice and feral cats in particular will keep these numbers down. So if stray cats are not fed by summer visitors there may be less mice and rats to kill with poison and thus less poisoned cats. However, poison is a popular method so would encouraging animals to fend for themselves mean that in fact more cats would end up poisoned? In which case, is it better to feed them and reduce their need to hunt for food? As most visitors who like animals may well find it impossible not to feed strays, the issue of whether it is better to or not is largely irrelevant and the question of where best to feed them becomes the important issue.
If you do feed the animals, try not to buy expensive pet foods, they will not know the difference! Strays will happily live well on a wide variety of scraps, if you are worried about animals on Corfu your money will be better spent elsewhere.
If you are staying with Agni travel or anticipate visiting Taverna Agni then bring a gift for the animals with you. All the organisations on Corfu are desperate for items such as collars, leads, worming tablets (especially palatable ones), flea collars (not for cats) and flea sprays/drops, chew toys, treats, and head collars (donkeys). If you bring one of these items with you, either hand it to your Agni Travel representative or hand it in at the Taverna: they will be received with gratitude.
If you are coming on holiday from Germany, or intend driving home from Corfu via Germany then please think about accompanying a dog on its way to a new life in Germany. If you are going by car this is a little more complicated than accompanying a dog on a flight but CTG members Graham and Angela T-A have done this twice now, last time with two dogs and will happily offer advice to anyone contemplating doing so themselves. Taking a dog on the aircraft is a very simple matter. You will be met at Corfu airport on your return journey. The animal rescue volunteers will go with you to check in the dog and then hand you its papers for you to take on board. When you arrive, you will collect the dog in its box, and go through to the arrivals where you will be met by the volunteers in Germany. If you wish to undertake such a commitment please go to the contact page on www.tierhilfe-korfu.gr and send Uta Engelhardt an email. If anyone wants any help with this please let me know.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the truly effective way to help is to support the neutering campaigns. If you are interested in helping to tackle one of the roots of the animal welfare problems then I would ask you to please make a donation (however small) to the Agni Animal Welfare Fund which is being run in association with, and is generously sponsored by, Agni Travel and Taverna Agni. Agni Travel has undertaken to pay all costs involved with running this Charitable Trust so that every penny of your money goes to help animals on Corfu. Very shortly the website www.agni-animal-welfare-fund.com will go live. Here you will find information regarding the aims of this Fund and the facility to donate online should you feel moved to do so. It is also planned that there will be regular stories about stray animals who have been helped which will hopefully provide wider insight into the lives of stray animals on Corfu.
The above pages have been carefully written with a view to providing an inoffensive perspective on what can be a brutal subject. In other words the material has, as far as possible, been deliberately portrayed in a non-judgemental manner. More information about animal welfare on Corfu can be found via the following links. The Corfu Travel Guide and Agni Travel cannot be held responsible for any content that may cause distress or offence
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