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News ::
Greeks to poison up to 15,000 stray dogs before the Olympics
18 Jul 2004
Thousands of stray dogs will be poisoned ahead of next month's Olympic Games
in Athens despite a campaign by the RSPCA to prevent their slaughter.
Thousands of stray dogs will be poisoned ahead of next month's
Olympic Games in
Athens despite a campaign by the RSPCA to prevent their slaughter.

The animal welfare charity says that the strays will be killed
because the Greek
authorities fear that the sight of packs of dogs roaming the streets
will damage
their efforts to use the Games to show the world that their country
is modern
and civilised.

There are an estimated 15,000 stray dogs in Athens and although the
government
has taken some action to remove them from the streets without
killing them, the
RSPCA says that local authorities will not have the resources or the
commitment
to round up the animals and keep them in shelters during the Games.

Officially, the Greek authorities say that there will be no mass
poisoning and
the Athens Olympics Committee has asked animal welfare groups to
help round up
the dogs.

There are however, only one or two shelters in Athens that can take
dogs and
they are already overcrowded, so the Greeks face a choice of leaving
the dogs
roaming the streets during the Olympics or poisoning them.

Greece's fledgling animal welfare groups said that the mass
slaughter of strays
had already begun. Eighty dogs were recently found dead in the
coastal resort of
Saronida, where some members of the British team are expected to
stay.

One animal welfare activist said: "There has been a big increase in
poisonings
recently and we expect it to rise sharply as the Games get closer.
We are doing
what we can, with a lot of help from international organisations
such as the
RSPCA, but we are fighting against a culture that is deeply
entrenched." The
RSPCA has campaigned hard to improve animal welfare in Greece and in
particular
to end the practice of poisoning strays to control their numbers.

The Greek government has expressed a desire to give more protection
to animals
and introduced tougher laws last year. Antonia Kanellopoulou, the
deputy mayor
of Athens, said: "Stray animals need our love."

The legislation has, however, had little effect and the RSPCA says
that many
local authorities in Athens and other areas hosting Olympic events
will use the
traditional method of poisoning the animals to clear the streets
before the
Games begin on August 13.

David Bowles of RSPCA International, who recently returned from
Athens where
RSPCA inspectors were training Greek officials to catch and treat
strays
humanely, said: "We are seriously concerned that thousands of dogs
will be
poisoned so that Greece can show that Athens is a pristine modern
city. They
don't have the manpower or the shelters to round up all the dogs. A
lot of the
local authorities simply don't know how to deal with dogs humanely.
We have put
a lot of effort into helping them to change their ways, but the
results have
been very patchy. We would like to see them using private shelters
so that all
the dogs can be given homes during the Olympics but it looks like
that is not
going to happen."

Mr Bowles said that mass poisoning was "barbaric" and a "short-term
fix" that
would not solve the problem of strays. Another senior RSPCA official
said:
"Greece's success in the European football championships in Portugal
and now
hosting the Olympic Games has undoubtedly boosted its prestige.

"They are desperate to make a success of the Games coming back to
where they
started. But they cannot call themselves civilised if they continue
to poison
dogs."

Carol McBeth, the director of the London-based Greek Animal Welfare
Fund, said
that she was concerned about many areas outside the centre of
Athens. "I think
we may see poisonings in the places where the cycling, football and
equestrian
events are being held," she said.

"They will be very keen to make sure that those areas are clear and
they don't
have shelters for the dogs."

Poisoning animals is a criminal offence in Greece, but it is such a
traditional
method of controlling the stray population that many local
authorities turn a
blind eye to the practice and actively engage in it themselves.

Greece does not have the same tradition of caring for pets as
Britain and many
animals are dumped when owners become bored with them. It is illegal
to have
animals put down in Greece and there is no tradition of taking in
strays.

The problem has been made worse by a "macho mentality" that finds
it "unnatural"
to neuter cats and dogs, although a neutering programme introduced
by the
government has had some success in Athens.

Anastase Scopelitis, the Greek ambassador to London, who is in
Greece on
holiday, was unavailable for comment. An embassy official
said: "Greece takes
animal welfare seriously and our government has taken measures to
improve our
standards."

This work is in the public domain
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