Betty's Blog

Rescue to Forever


My childhood dream was to rescue dogs. It was in my DNA! 

My gorgeous Dad was just three years old when he was orphaned in WW1 and adopted by a kind neighbour who also rescued dogs. 

Our home was full of dogs, not always ours…….Dad was everyone’s faithful pet sitter long before it became a profession and needless to say dogs adored him. 

Even some of the big breeds who were considered difficult would just melt when they met Dad. Maybe the dogs picked up that he had been rescued because he seemed to have some kind of telepathy for a dog in need……and of course all our dogs were rescues. 

So in 1979 when I landed my dream job in Greece with Sunmed I thought all my doggie dreams were coming true as the bosses were as dog mad as Dad and me. 

In Greece there were more dogs in need than I could ever have imagined. You would quite literally be walking into work and find newborn puppies in ditches. But with wonderful bosses like Vic and Lynnie you knew that you had their huge support and that  they would actively help you all they could……..which is something which they and their families still do to this day!

Working in Greece in the 80s with Sunmed were the best years for all of us who were lucky enough to work for them. We all still reminisce so fondly. We loved our bosses and would do anything for them because equally we knew they would do anything for us too…….and especially helping us rescue dogs. 

It was still the early days of package travel to the smaller Greek islands, computers were new, the reservations system crashed frequently and international flights were only able to land in Athens, Corfu and Crete. Getting to the smaller islands involved long ferry journeys and our transfers averaged 24 hours but even longer in storms. 

It was like being in a real life soap opera as the company grew from being a small upmarket Greek island specialist to become the household name that it is today. The stories, and there are many, will wait for another day. 

My fondest memories from the 80s are  of Vic and Lynnie and the friends I made while rescuing dogs. But it’s tinged with sadness as I lost my  Dad and Foxie, my first Greek rescue dog, very suddenly within months of each other and my safe little world fell apart…….

Every year Vic gave us reps a 2 week holiday for our parents to visit. My parents couldn’t believe this generosity as a Sunmed holiday was way beyond Mum’s budgeting skills. They had spent two holidays visiting me on Poros but in 1981 were coming to visit me in Aghia Gallini, in Crete. 

Dad had served in North Africa as a tank driver during WW2 and it had been his life-long dream to take Mum to visit the Pyramids. He was over the moon when he found out that he would be holidaying in Crete and they would not only be able to take a 3 day mini-cruise to Egypt but he could also lay to rest some ghosts on Crete where he’d he’d also fought.  

Everyone’s Dad is special but I knew my Dad was extra special because everyone loved him, especially my friends. You couldn’t not love him. He just was the kindest, sweetest, most generous person. He counted himself so lucky for having been adopted at 3 years of age and not taken off to the orphanage like his older siblings. 

He also counted himself lucky that he had survived the war when many in his regiment did not. His time in Crete would never be erased from his memory and he told me many times that he’d been extremely lucky as of the thousands of British soldiers who had landed on Crete only 400 or so would eventually get back out as the intelligence had been so disastrous.

But by 1981 Dad’s luck was running out. He was just 65 and about to retire, a talented coach builder creating custom made ambulances and fire engines and working all the extra hours hours he could to keep us comfortable, his boss happy and his young apprentice in the good books of his probation officer!

Back in the day health and safety procedures in the work place were almost non-existent and Dad was a regular at Paddington Eye Hospital. But I don’t remember Dad ever needing a doctor until his last year. Despite countless visits to hospital a congenital heart defect wasn’t  picked up until it was too late. 

We’d had the best time together in Crete. Mum was so happy that Dad had achieved his dream and Dad was about to help me achieve mine. 

I suppose it was inevitable that eventually I would adopt a dog. Foxie was gorgeous, his owner was going to be in prison for some years and the resident  dog rescuer and local tour guide in Aghia Gallini, a lovely lady called Toni, asked me if I’d like a doggie friend! 

Dad fell instantly in love with Foxie and we had secret discussions, out of earshot of Mum, as to how on earth we could manage to afford a 6 month quarantine bill. Every conversation finished in true Dad style: 

“Don’t worry – we’ll find a way!” 

The following year I was working in Zante with Foxie who had flown with me from Crete. It was incredibly exciting times for Sunmed with the first international flights to the island. And I was doubly excited as both Foxie and I had air-side passes so we could meet all the new arrivals direct from the plane!

It started well but soon became a nightmare for us reps. In one year Zante had gone from 30 discerning guests a week who understood the quirkiness of Greek plumbing and bonkers hoteliers and that you didn’t need swimming pools when you were 2 minutes from a glorious beach.

Suddenly with a direct flight a new breed of tourist was born and the unspoilt Greek islands would never be the same again. We now had 390 guests a week in the tiny resort of Argassi, and not enough tavernas to cater for them, an agent with a big heart but was learning as he went along and a plumbing system and water supplies in melt-down and let’s not mention the rats!

Vic’s philosophy had always been that our guests were to be treated like royalty and in the early days this was so easy and a pleasure to do.

It was no-one’s fault. Just a steep learning curve for everyone back in London. But now literally faced with lynch mobs in Zante on every arrival…….I still quake when I think of Panayotis Studios… was far easier to check everyone in as fast as possible and jump back on the transfer bus and wait for the inevitable fall-out at the welcome drinks later in the day.

Mum and Dad were due to fly out for their annual holiday but poor Dad wasn’t well enough. It was a relief because I knew I wouldn’t have as much time as usual because I would be dealing with some really difficult guests who weren’t yet ready to enjoy the quirky Greece that we all knew and loved.

My world collapsed when Mum phoned Lynnie in London to tell her that Dad had died. The Greek phone system was really antiquated and Mum hoped somehow that she could be the one to tell me personally……

I don’t remember exactly what happened after this conversation and just have recollections of feeling totally numb, flying to Athens for an overnight stay, praying when I woke up it was all a dream, then when reality hit boarding a plane to Heathrow wearing sunglasses because my eyes were hurting and my heart was breaking.

Lynnie and Vic were there to meet me. Took me to Mum and were there ever more. A few weeks after Dad’s funeral they flew us both back to Zante where little Foxie was waiting for us.

Mum was a star. Thirty-three years with this gorgeous man who adored her and did everything possible to make her happy. They had an old-fashioned dream marriage but I don’t think she ever realised until Dad died.

Mum loved Lynnie and Vic and never forgot their kindness. She had a special soft spot for Lynnie and really appreciated how she would be jetted off alongside Lynnie’s closest friends for weekends to visit me in Greece. Mum, the little school secretary, was made to fell like royalty but was equally part of the crew and the best person to partner in quizzes or Scrabble.

These truly were special times and I doubt any travel company has anything like this nowadays.

Sadly a few months after Dad’s death Foxie escaped from a friend’s home in Zante whilst I was home visiting Mum in the UK. It was the double-whammy and the reason I’m totally paranoid about dogs escaping and poor Foxie still haunts my dreams.

And equally why I’m drawn to small white fluffy dogs, especially those from Zante

The Greek dog rescue started here but little did I dream that after Foxie there would be Sunmed Fred and over 200 more dogs continuing into our 60s and 70s!

The rescue world is in crisis and I wish there were more travel bosses like the ones I was lucky to work for. Going into my 70s it’s my mission to find them!

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