Happy Birthday Dad

Today would be the 106th birthday of my very special dad. I’m so proud because my dad was everyone’s favourite dad.He was just so generous and kind and where dogs were concerned he could never say no, rescuing dogs was in his DNA. 

Dad was orphaned during WW1…….he was only 3. His elder brother and sisters were taken to the orphanage but dad got lucky and was adopted by a neighbour who also rescued dogs! 

The stories he told me of his childhood were mostly about his wonderful foster mum and the amazing way that rescue dogs could enrich people’s lives.

My favourite but saddest story was about a little Italian dog that he adopted during WW2. She hung out with him in the tank which he drove and he named her 10C after his regiment. She sounded a dear little dog and must’ve been such a tonic amidst the horror of war and the other guys in the tank went along with it, hiding her whenever necessary. 

I never asked Dad how he ever thought he’d be able to get her back into the UK. He wouldn’t have worried too much as he was such a sunny person and believed in the good of humankind and that somehow he’d find a way. Sadly, he never had the chance to bring 10C to England. One day there was a mission too dangerous for her to be in the tank so Dad left her behind at camp…….

10C was never seen again and it broke my Dad’s heart imaging what had happened to her. 

I believe dog rescue must be in the blood. Why else would stray dogs sniff out people like him and me? 

In 1978 I went to work as a teacher on Lesvos and there started my own rescue journey. I went on to work for Sunmed on various different islands: Poros, Crete, Zante, Corfu fostering every waif that found me and finding them forever homes whenever I could. (Only on Mykonos did I not foster as they had the stray dog situation under control – but to this day they still have a huge problem with cats.) 

I managed to stay true to the principals of fostering….getting the dogs healthy and clean enough to find homes but not letting yourself fall in love too much. That was until Foxie arrived in my life. 

Foxie lived in Aghios Gallini in Crete and his owner had just been sent to prison. I was asked if I’d like to foster him for my summer season. Fatal! Foxie was a star. I fell deeply in love and he became my very first rescue Greekie and went everywhere with me. By the time we reached Zante one year later the Greek CAA had given him and me an airside pass to greet the weekly Danair flights for Sunmed. 

Dad fell in love with Foxie. Quarantine back in the day was only for the wealthy. Dad was undeterred and as ever said we’d find a way to afford it once I came back to the UK. 

Sadly, it was not to be. The summer of 1982 my super-fit little dad became suddenly ill and died. I flew to England to be with mum and Foxie went missing whilst staying with a friend. 

The double-wammy maybe explains my obsession with helping small white scruffy dogs find homes. 

Fast forward to 2015, I’m hoping to retire from travel when I meet up with my old friend and huge animal lover, Fiona. She used to be manager of our travel agency in the Teletext days when we specialized in Greece. We haven’t seen each other for years and she makes the fatal mistake and asks me what’s going on with the Greek dogs……….

Fiona’s much younger than me, has a 3 year old and a very demanding 24/7 job dealing with the Palace as she’s PA to a household name. 

It took me less than an hour to persuade her to come back and deal with dizzy me and the even more demanding world of dog rescue. 

And so in 2016 Starlight Barking was born! 

Since 2016 we’ve come such a long way. Fiona has used all her diplomatic skills to find the loveliest families to adopt almost 200 dogs from all over Greece, but especially Lemnos where we first started. 

With the support network we now have, which includes our Swedish and Danish rescue friends, and with the fabulous Dynamic Duo, Fotini and Vaggelio, and the trustees and friends of Starlight Barking, Lemnos has gone from strength to strength. By February 2021 the shelter was down to only 14 dogs! In the last year we even managed to re-home 26 Ghost Dogs who had been there for over 3 years. 

Then this summer Lemnos Shelter literally had an explosion of puppies. Instead of dumping them in bins, they were now being dumped outside the shelter. Then the senior dogs started arriving, some in need of urgent operations. It was relentless. As fast as both we and our Swedish friends were finding homes more and more dogs were dumped and Lemnos shelter is now overflowing once more. 

This is what is happening all over Greece! The best shelters are now victims of their own success with ever increasing numbers. 

At the heart of our rescue mission was the idea that travel companies would want to help……..how wrong could we be? 

We built a new not-for-profit website: www.thetravelchest.co.uk

The dream was we would advertise all the special deals on offer in return for sponsorship which would go into neutering projects all over the world. Baring in mind the extortionate amount spent on PR and marketing we thought this would be a win-win idea.

Although as a teacher and resort rep I never had any problems giving a presentation to a large group, pitching an idea of how we could all be helping stray dogs to some of my travel industry heroes was something else. 
In all my years managing Snowbizz I rarely went to industry events but when we started the charity I seized the opportunity to go to everything I was invited to and pitch for the dogs. 

Fortunately, I do have some lovely dog-loving travel friends who supported us with sponsorship and tried so hard to give me introductions. ABTA and AITO were wonderful but I soon realised that for many I was a bit of a joke. 
I lost count of the number of travel events where I was blanked. I could see eyes rolling, glazing over, heroes of mine doing everything to avoid eye contact, dodging me at the buffet table. 

I didn’t care about me, I’d started to get quite thick skinned but I did care that every blank refusal to help, and there were so many, was turning their backs on the dogs who desperately needed our help. 

Then we got a huge lucky break thanks to my friend Kate, who at the time was the CEO at AITO. Kate had invited me to go on to the Sustainable Tourism Committee at AITO. That’s another story for another day, but finally I was meeting fellow travel professionals who were real animal lovers and understood me. The committee are mostly a young bunch of travel employees, rather than travel bosses, chaired over the last 2 years by 2 incredible young women and their passion and what I’ve leaned from them has inspired me to keep going for the dogs. 

The lucky break came when Kate asked me to go in her place to a really prestigious private lunch being hosted by Lorraine, CEO at the British Travel Awards. I know Kate set me up and I will never ever stop thanking her because at the lunch was one of my all time travel heroes, Roger. 

Roger is one of our best known and loved industry figures and used to be best buddies with my old Sunmed bosses, Vic and Lynnie (who have always been a huge support). When I was a resort rep he was already an up and coming entrepreneur and on his visits out to Greece with Vic, never forgot his roots and always remembered us hard working reps. 

I’d always dreamed of having Roger’s support for the dogs but never thought it would ever happen. 

Derek, the Chair of AITO at the time, met me for coffee before the lunch. Derek is another well-loved industry figure and has set-up The Derek Moore Foundation www.thederekmoorefoundation.org

Derek and I had been on the same AITO course on giving presentations. Derek the raconteur was fabulous. I was a disaster. 

Over coffee Derek breaks it to me that after lunch he will give me a nudge and I will have a chance to pitch for the dogs. 

I’m flabbergasted as I honestly thought we were just going to have a lovely lunch and talk about the British Travel Awards. Instead I’ve got the absolute perfect opportunity to pitch to some of the most respected names in travel about the plight of the stray dogs in their destinations. 

My usual go-to stress buster is to consume a few glasses of wine as fast as possible in order to avoid a full blown panic, but that day, in front of several of my travel heroes I knew the dogs were depending on me. 

Derek had advised me that I shouldn’t presume that travel bosses had even an inkling of what was going on in their resorts and now was the chance to tell some of them. 

There was so much to say about the cruelty going on right under their noses but brushed under the carpet by those in authority to avoid offending tourists. I knew I had about a minute to get the message across……….not my usual waffle, going off track. I let the one glass of wine go warm and concentrated….hard. And I did it! I actually did it! 

We haven’t looked back since that day. Roger offered to help the dogs and has become our best support ever and several of his lovely friends have joined him. We still have an enormous way to go. The Pandemic didn’t help, there were several companies who who offered sponsorship for the neutering projects but then were unable to finance this. 

An enormous thank you to Roger and all at Hebridean Island Cruises and Light Blue Travel, to the incredible Sandy, founder of the Yorkshire Travel Ball, to Viv and Nick at Discerning Collection and Iain and team at Neilson for supporting the dogs when times were so tough. We hope you’re all bouncing back to full capacity again. 

Thank you to Lori from the British Travel Awards for adopting another gorgeous Lemnos Shelter dog, Doris, to fill the deep gap in your dad’s life. And to the growing number of individual travel sponsors like Clare and Sue. 

With travel bouncing back. We’re now on a mission to get more companies involved. Please will you help us by signing up for our newsletter and show travel companies how much you care. 

Thank you all so much from the millions of stray dogs. Together we can make a massive difference!