Rescuing dogs was already in my DNA and I think I was destined to meet Fotini, which happened in 2015 when she helped us get four puppies back from Lemnos to the UK.
Fotini worked at Lemnos airport and had been volunteering at Lemnos Dog Shelter for just over a year. It wasn’t until a year later that I actually saw the shelter and what she’s been dealing with. It was a shock!
It’s hard to describe the hell it was. Inhumane, a botched job of dangerous wire netting, old broken beach umbrellas and, bizarrely, there was an office style building with storerooms and showers where the food was kept.
In the middle of hell was this little pocket rocket, Fotini and her best friend, Vaggelio, and a whole pile of surprisingly happy looking dogs. God knows how!
That basic human instinct hit hard and I just wanted to cry. (Later I saw grown men do exactly that) but watching Fotini and Vaggelio and their absolute infectious joy that they were making a difference to the lives of these doom dogs was a wake up call.
Crying is negative.We needed to do something positive.
They were both on a learning curve and what they lacked in experience was more than made up with enthusiasm.
Apart from from Fotini’s husband, son, sister and niece, one high school girl and one other friend, many people on the island thought they were crazy giving up all their free time and energy for a bunch of stray dogs.
Undeterred, Fotini and Vaggelio set about their first PR mission and invited all the dog lovers to come on the island’s first ever shelter dog walk in June 2016.
About 40 of us turned up. The dogs had great fun. I loved being part of this little dog friendly group who really cared and now saw some of the shop and bar owners in a completely different light.
I was only marginally freaking out inside for all the health and safety issues…….
In my 20s I’d always dreamed of giving up teaching to open a rescue kennels and in the 1980s I’d been on an amazing kennel management course run by this gorgeous retired couple Major Wilf and Gill Tyler.
Wilf wrote the UK’s first ever “Good Kennels and Cattery Guide” and was something of an inspiration in his day. My time spent with them I learned so much and with every dog that I’ve fostered I keep hearing Wilf’s safety mantras about double-fencing and escape artists. Wilf would have had a field day at the Lemnos Shelter!
Let’s put it this way. The dogs did always survive for another day and it wasn’t Fotini or Vaggelio’s fault that the shelter gates were so ridiculously unsafe.
Trying to open the gates was like being on some half-baked game show. You had to beat your arms around in a non-threatening but authoritative way to clear the dogs away from the exit. While at the same time trying to manoeuvre the ancient, heavy sliding gate, which had a mind of its own and never wanted to open or close. Think Hogwarts and you will get the picture!
I don’t ever remember visiting the shelter without there being at least one escapee – who fortunately were swiftly brought back.
A couple of times I visited to find an escapee sitting patiently outside waiting to be let back in!
Fotini and Vaggelio were a total inspiration you couldn’t not want to help. They had over 80 dogs with the number is growing and just the two of them, and Fotini’s niece and school friend visiting whenever they could.
The municipality were leaving those dogs to rot and die. There was no supervision. No employees. Many days went by when they weren’t fed. If hadn’t been for Fotini and Vaggelio those dogs wouldn’t be alive today instead of living in loving homes in the UK and Sweden.
I asked Fotini what we could do to help. Her reply was simply: “Please find Alfie a home!”
Alfie was the most gorgeous laid back Golden Retriever. He’d been found outside the shelter with Irina, another pretty white Retriever, both bags of bones, presumably dumped as they were not made for hunting. They had been two years at the shelter.
I had no idea where this journey was going to take us but when faced with these two amazing human beings asking if you can help, even though you’ve no idea how you’re going to do this thing ……you just say a great big yes!
I was on holiday with Kath, my best friend from school days, and we just bundled Alfie into the hire car took him to the vet to get all his vaccinations, then up to our house to post him on Facebook.
We had no idea what we were doing and couldn’t quite believe the fantastic response from all our friends. Within a few days we’d raised enough for Alfie’s travel and then the adoption requests started rolling in………and that’s another minefield.
Thankfully our Fiona now handles all the adoptions. This is one the hardest jobs. You have so much responsibility to ensure the right dog finds the right home. Fiona takes so much care and is brilliant at this.
Since Alfie, almost 300 more adoptions have followed. We learned a lot. We’ve laughed and cried but overall we’re ecstatic that so many Lemnos dogs have found not just any old home but really brilliant ones with families wanting to give back to the shelter and make a difference.
We now work with a Swedish group and between us help Lemnos Shelter. Fotini posts some great photos on Instagram and @lemnos_dogs_shelter has a loyal following.
Greek Rescue Heroes
This story isn’t unique – and this scenario is played out all over Greece. Wonderful volunteers, no-one locally taking them seriously – then one day they get lucky……someone from outside of Greece discovers them, slowly they build a rapport and things start to change.
This is what has a happened on some of the more popular islands like Crete, Corfu, Rhodes, Kefalonia, Zante, Santorini and Skiathos where the volunteer network is so strong that they can literally re-home hundreds of dogs a year…..but they’re still always struggling financially as more and more dogs are dumped.
Takis Shelter in Ierapetra, Crete is the epitome of what social media can do for rescue dogs. Takis has an even bigger following than Battersea and his supporters have totally funded a new open plan shelter for hundreds of dogs with housing for vets and volunteers.
We dream that more dog lovers will adopt a shelter. And that travel companies will give back and sponsor one or two shelters in their destinations. Collectively we have the power to make a massive difference.
We might not be able to tackle climate change overnight but if we all adopted just one shelter we could end the stray dog crisis in a heartbeat!
To find out more how you can adopt a shelter please contact: email@example.com