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News ::
Athens is 'cleaned' of its dogs
23 Aug 2004
The Athens 2004 Organizing Committee was determined to present an Olympic city free from the 'uncivilized' presence of roaming canines
Athens is 'cleaned' of its dogs

By Lee Benson
Deseret Morning News

ATHENS — Locals here will tell you of a time when dogs ran wild and free in the streets. The animals roamed the narrow, winding roads and alleys and the hills and vales of Athens with impunity. They went where they wanted, slept where they wanted, barked when they wanted.
It was about three months ago.
Beyond the new super highway that surrounds Olympic city, beyond the expanded subway system and the fabulous state-of-the-art stadiums that have sprung up everywhere, one of the biggest changes the 2004 Olympics has brought to Athens is a significant reduction in the at-large dog population.
It isn't talked about much. Newcomers would have no way of knowing that dogs used to be ubiquitous.
"Oh, but they were," an American who lives here told me. "Up until just recently, dogs were everywhere. When I'd go walking in the hills I'd usually have a pack of five or six join me. They're friendly for the most part and I'm a dog lover, so I was happy to have them. But they were all over. They'd sleep all day and bark all night."
According to the expatriated American, the dogs were castoffs. "People would get their kid a dog and then get tired of it," she said, meaning the dog.
So out goes the dog — cast adrift into a country that doesn't have dog-catchers or an organized humane society.
In dog, that translates to one thing: total freedom.
According to an article in the Athens News, a Greek newspaper written in English, less than three months ago Athens had a homeless dog population in excess of 15,000. "In the whole of Attica it is around 25,000," reported the newspaper, referring to the southern part of the Greek mainland that Athens and its nearly 4 million people anchor.
"Most (of these dogs) were dumped by owners who no longer wanted them, or they are the progeny of owned dogs," said the newspaper. "While in other countries stray dogs are picked up and placed in shelters, from which they are rehomed, reunited with their owners or put to sleep after a period of time, in Greece the concept has not taken off; locals have no interest in adopting street mongrels."
They do feed them from time to time, however, and some people leave out bowls of water so the orphaned dogs can get a drink.
Not a perfect situation, but workable . . . until the Olympics approached.
"The Athens 2004 Organizing Committee was determined to present an Olympic city free from the 'uncivilized' presence of roaming canines," the Athens News reported.
In June, the newspaper said, "strays from around the venues were taken to shelters where they will remain kenneled until September, when they will be returned to their old haunts. About 1,500 strays are part of the stray-housing plan; the remaining homeless dogs of Attica will stay lounging in the parks and shop doorways to greet Olympic and Paralympic visitors."
It isn't at all unusual, of course, for an Olympic city to clean up its act, even if it's only for a short time. In Salt Lake, we did something with the homeless people population; I'm still not sure what it was, but their numbers were way down during the 2002 Games. The same thing reportedly happened in Sydney in 2000. And I remember in Seoul in 1988 when there was a big fuss about restaurants offering dog for dinner. Concerned about what non-dog-eaters coming to the Olympics might think, the organizing committee talked the restaurants into desisting from offering dog during the Olympic period.
In Seoul, they took dog off the menu; here, they took them off the streets.
But there's one big catch to the official story that only a small percentage of the strays are in captivity: It seems almost all of the dogs have disappeared. There are hardly any parks and shop doorways with lounging dogs in them.
I can confirm this. After nearly two weeks in Athens, walking a lot of places in many sections of the city, I have run into only two dogs without collars. These two hang out by the Athens Olympic Complex, the biggest Olympic site in the city. I've seen them more than once. They sleep in the shade of a big "Adidas" billboard. It looks to me like they're putting on weight. I think they're doing well with about 100,000 international visitors adopting them.
But that's it. Two strays. From what I've seen, Athens is mostly stray-dog free — a virtual cat paradise.
Some people smell a sinister plot.
There have been "insinuations," as the Athens News put it, "that the organizing committee "poisoned stray dogs . . . but officials say no animals perished in the cleanup."
Proof of that, I suppose, will come in late September. After the Olympics, Athens will either go back to the dogs or it won't.

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