Friday, 30 November 2012

November 22 – Blues of Cats & dogs


Autumn is a marvellous time: the greening landscape, the yellow and red autumnal shades, summer-like temperatures, the smell of leaves and mushrooms and the beautiful light. But autumn has also a disadvantage: the stray animals that are abandoned.

I do love the autumn but I hate this other aspect of this season. You really have to cover your eyes when you walk the streets because everywhere you see cats (mostly) jumping in your way seeking attention and food. The season of tourists spoiling cats is over and suddenly these animals are confronted with a harsh reality: they are on their own to gather food.

Some cats are used to the difference between a cold winter with a minimum of attention and food and a summer full of delicious food and plenty of nice people spoiling them. But there are also cats who, when night falls, stay in the middle of the road. A friend coming back from Australia told me that kangaroos like to sit on the road at night because of the warm tarmac. So I wonder if these kamikaze cats remain on the road for the warmth or if it is a cry for attention. To me it seems like suicide, the road is not the safest place to sit.

Greeks have never had a special relationship with pets and especially not with cats. Cats were only kept to drive mice, rats and snakes away and they were even used as food for fighting dogs. The famous writer of comedies Aristophanes (446 - 386 BC) regularly used cats in his satirical plays, as a scapegoat: they were always the ones who did it: “The cat did it” became a popular expression in that time. Alternately, in Egypt, cats were loved so much, that when one died, all members of the household had to shave their eyebrows as a sign for mourning.

For dogs it is the same story: lots of strays do not know where to go, when most people have left the island and where life gets on but mainly inside the houses. Pups are dropped at the schools, in the hope that parents will take a dog for their children; other dogs roam along the roads, in search of food and attention.

Dogs were a bit more popular in ancient Greece than cats. Peritas, the favourite dog of Alexander the Great saved him once during a battle by biting an elephant on his lips. It is said that during this same battle Peritas got wounded and died in the lap of his master. And just like at the death of Alexanders beloved horse Bucephalus, Peritas had a city named after him, close to Bucephala, nowadays Jhelum in Pakistan.

Another dog known from Greek mythology is Argos, the dog of Odysseus. He waited twenty years for Odysseus to come back from his participation at the Trojan war and his long journey home. Only when his boss finally showed up, could Argos die.

Laelaps was the dog that Zeus gave to Europe whom he had abducted and taken to Crete. There the dog was given to king Minos, who gave the dog to Procris. Procris set the dog to hunting the big fox Teumessia, which led to a paradox: Laelaps was a hunting dog who always got his prey, while Teumessia was a very smart and giant fox who never got caught. Zeus, enraged by the constantly running dog and fox, changed them into stone.

Nowadays the most well known dog is Loukanikos, the Athenian stray that last year was always seen with the protesters in the riots in the Greek capital and will certainly have a place in Greek mythology in future. Loukanikos was amongst the protesters called by Time Magazine ‘Person of the year 2011’. The last I heard about him he had retreated, probably to an adoptive home where he gets spoiled, which is better than straying into the Molotov cocktails.

More and more organisations are trying to help the stray animals, also on Lesvos, and even individuals take action like selling calendars or to sterilize cats and dogs. The Wildlife Hospital in Agia Paraskevia has stopped its main activities, but work is still going on at the animal shelter EreSOS (in Eresos) and since last year there is an animal welfare organisation Tierfreunde Lesvos in the north of the island helping people with the adoption of strays and sterilization. (Friedrun and Inge: many thanks for what you and the other people helping you do).

Last summer there also was some fuss about some people trying to free all chained dogs. However well meant, these people should realize that many dogs still help the farmers with their cattle and are for this reason tied up. Lots of them are not as badly treated as it looks and we should not forget that decades ago in our western European countries, guarding dogs at farms were kept on chains or in far too small cages.

Animal love should not get exagerrated. And Lesvos is no supermarket where you can adopt each animal you meet. Last summer I heard stories about tourists taking animals away, even though they had homes on the island. My dog also had a tourist fall in love with him and she kept on begging me for the dog to take him away from the island. Albino in fact is a stray dog who lives in the summer in a hotel where he makes sure that he gets spoiled and in the winter he lives with me. I am sure he is the happiest straydog of the island.

There are lots of others dogs (and cats) who desperately need a home or attention. Just take a look at EreSOS, Tierfreunde Lesvos, or another organisation for animal welfare and see how you can help them.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2012

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