(For decades, animal volunteers are being slandered and prosecuted in Greece, while conspiracy theorists are being portrayed as savious. This article is part of our efforts to restore the truth and expose the lies. For more information click here)
A shocking testimony is shared with us by Myra Antoniou, an animal volunteer who has been active in Greece for the last 40 years. Myra is probably the only living volunteer who has lived up close, all that all of us younger people have heard as fairy tales, about the Greece of the dog catcher, the first voluntary shelters and the absence of veterinarians. Myra not only experienced the birth of animal welfare in Greece, but was – and still is – in the front line, and indeed in one of the areas facing a huge problem, Salamina. In the four decades that her experience counts, a lot has changed. The only thing that may not have changed is that animal welfare was based then and today on selfless love and the efforts of volunteers, Greeks and foreigners.
It’s really worth reading her experience, and maybe you understand a lot of things. The past is not necessarily studied in order not to repeat the same mistakes, but above all to interpret the present, to accept it for what it is, and to be able to move forward.
FIRST ANIMAL SHELTERS – THE 70s
“In 1977, my husband and I came to Greece, from South Africa, where we had both grown up, for his postgraduate studies. Until then we knew nothing about what was going on with animals in Greece.
At one point, we saw a man on TV riding a horse on foot through traffic on Marathon Avenue. This man was Mike Garbis, and he was driving the horse to the animal shelter he had founded in Harvati Paianias (outskirts of Athens)
The shelter was 13 acres. He hosted, puppies, kittens, donkeys, horses. He had a house to stay in, and we used to use that to rest at noon. From the first moment we met him, we became members of his association, ANIMAL LOVERS SOCIETY IN GREECE. I took the position of secretary, and our life in Greece took a different turn than we had dreamed of.
We forgot the baths in the sea, the sun, the blue sky, we bathed in our sweat, the sun was burning, for sand we had the stink of the soil we were cleaning, and we weren’t looking at the sky, our heads were always bent down, feeding, cleaning, taking care of the animals.
We were there every weekend. I had another duty. Once a week I’d go to THE VOCTA (chicken factory) in Oinophyta and fill bags of slaughtered chickens that couldn’t be sold. It was a lot of meat and they would give them to me for free, I used to fill the car. That’s what we cooked, with rice, for the shelter’s puppies and kittens. There was no kibble back then, no electricity. In an outdoor kitchen, away from the animals and the house, we would light a fire, and cook in a large pot. There was a generator for the house and the refrigerators.
Neutring and spying were unknown words, the medicene were few, and there were no vets anywhere. We were very few volunteers, me and my husband Tony volunteered every weekend, and every summer two girls from England, dear sisters, Caroline and Nikki, who would spend their summers in the shelter, tireless and dedicated.
One morning, we found outside the shelter door a lioness in an iron cage. She lived with us for a few years, ate the chickens of Voktas, which were now more because of her, and through the British organization GREEK ANIMAL WELFARE, she was transferred first to Northern Greece, and then to England.”
THE DOG CATCHER
The stray situation at the time was not what it is now. There were no strays in such numbers, and the reason was simple, there was still “BOGIAS” – the dog catcher, the beast that collected the dogs, and killed them with gasses and shovels, and if you as a citizen killed a dog any way you liked, you would cut off his two ears, and they would pay you 50 drachmas (Greek currency of the time).
In the battle to abolish dog catcher, we were specifically:
Marina Kollia, from the St. Francis Aniaml Welfare Association, with a shelter in Koropi.
Pat Stathatos, from the HELLENIC ANIMAL WELFARE COMPANY with the shelter that was later made in Koropi.
Mike Garbis, from UNITED ANIMAL LOVERS OF GREECE, with the shelter in Harvati Paianias.
And Ioanna Garagouni, who was president of the pseudo-CONFEDERATION OF ANIMAL WELFARE ASSOCIATIONS GREECE – a simple organization and not a confederation – misinformation to sell face since you were what you were declaring, which she did for decades, and she kept insisting for decades that she was the one who abolished the dog catcher.
I have nothing else to say about her, apart from the fact that she has done everything in her life to spread discord and hatred among the animal volunteers.”
THE FIRST FOREIGN CHARITY THAT HELPED GREEK STRAYS
“In 1982, Vesna and Paul Jones drove down from England. They too came to enjoy their holidays. In vain. The situation of the strays in Greece led them to Mike Garbis’ shelter. They stayed there, and on their way back to England, Vesna founded Greek Animal Rescue. The first dog she brought to England from Greece was named Garbi.”
90s AND THE FIRST SPAYING AND NEUTERING CAMPAIGNS
“My husband and I went back to South Africa for a few years. When we returned to Greece in 1991, the situation was different. There were strays everywhere. In Glyfada (southern Athens) where we used to work there were packs of strays everywhere.
A few years ago, SPAZ, the Association for the Protection of Stray Animals, was founded. The goal was spaying and neutering and nothing else. We financed the surgeries by specific veterinarians in Glyfada and Voula, and we did not discriminate between strays and owned dogs.
There was unity, goodwill and respect between us, and we succeeded.”
What seemed to be the dawn of the pro-animal movement in Greece, which abolished borders and united Greeks and foreigners with a unique knowledge of their love for animals, was tainted by a woman, Ioanna Garagouni, who, as Myra says, “did everything possible in her life to spread discord and hatred.”
With xenophobic and nationalist rhetoric that has no place in animal welfare, she founded a union called the “Confederation of Animal Welfare Associations of Greece”, when there were still no federations in Greece, misleading citizens, journalists and authorities that she represented the majority of the pro-animal world, while she only represented herself and her conspiracy theories.
She made her life’s goal to stop animal adoptions abroad, renaming adoption “trafficking,” a rhetoric that continues to this day, and that is deeply rooted in political circles and in journalism, and supported by extreme and racist pages used for online bullying by proxy against volunteers.
Today she is referred to as the woman who abolished the dog catcher, even by newspapers of mass circulation in Greece, which unfortunately contribute to spreading a conspiracy theory and slandering the volunteers. The abolition of the dog catcher was not hers achievement however, it was the achievement of many.
*** The conspiracy theory that falsely names adoptions of strays “trafficking” started decades ago -as Myra remembers, and has infiltrated the goverment to such extent, that even today rescuers are being bullied, and foreigh adopters are becoming victims of racism. Read more about our efforts to restore the truth and protect the volunteers from defamation and prosecution here.
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