The Greeks first coined the phrase, “Live free or die.” That may be a good philosophy for most of the dogs living here in Athens. Athenians do love their pets. Pet stores outnumber sports stores about 10:1. The problems with dogs as pets, is that most people in Athens live in apartments or multi-family buildings. There isn’t much in the way of green space and dog crapping areas. I notice most Athenians pick up after their dogs. Exceptions are the elderly who despite their intimate knowledge of their neighborhood never walk on the sidewalks at night. When given the choice of picking up dog crap off the street or getting run over by a speeding car most elderly have not attained old age by being foolish.
Dogs of every size and mixed breeds are found in our neighborhood of Lykovrisi. Like most people there are responsible considerate owners and a few others who shouldn’t have an ant farm.
When we lived and worked in Athens prior to the Olympics there were dogs everywhere. Dogs were sleeping in front of any shop that had food, lazing under trees and darting into traffic or crossing responsibly at the lights. Just prior to the Olympics, dogs and cats were rounded up in huge numbers. The dog population was decimated while the cats have repopulated to the same levels. Only the quickest and cleverest canines are still running the streets. Its a state secret where all the dogs went but sausage sales dropped off in Athens dramatically in 2004 I am told.
In Lykovrisi the area is almost all multi family upscale small apartment buildings with little or no yards. Everyone knows each other and their pets. A few doors down from us a lady lives in a ground floor unit with some citrus, olive and fig trees, a few flowers and a little patch of grass. She also has a cocker spaniel that smells like a popular local perfume and is groomed like a super model. Across the street a beagle spends about 12 hours a day on a 5′ wide balcony. Sun hits the balcony at least 4 hours of the day and the dog barks at passers by while sipping water from its bowl on days when the temperatures exceed 100 Fahrenheit. A beagle should be sniffing out new trails instead of sitting smelling its own urine on hot concrete .
I have several dogs in my life now. As you may know, our dog Zoe is enjoying a vacation of her own living at Pat’s house in Bishop. Days of swimming and sleeping in the shade of the spacious backyard agree with Zoe. When dogs age, they find traveling more stressful and start exhibiting unusual behavior. Zoe has given up her manic dirt eating and is acting the same as she did on the mini farm in Washington, relaxed and happy. Travel is stressful for elderly dogs and humans but we hope Pat and Zoe are still looking forward to a few more trips with us.
I have some other dogs too. At our air base we have about 25 strays. Three packs of about 7 or more dogs. A creek forms the territorial boundary for the packs. The east creek pack lives on the runway control tower side of the base with us and is made up of smaller and younger dogs. The West creek pack are mostly larger mature dogs and the North pack is made up of outcasts and newbies. When I cross the bridge over the creek walking west in the early morning I frequently encounter the west pack. It’s necessary to walk by the west pack like the alpha dog. One of the pilots crossed over to the other side of the road approaching the pack and got a nip on his Achilles for his show of weakness. The east pack dogs range in size from 10 to 40 lbs and its leader is a female long haired Dachshund. The ladies who work the control tower and meteorologic office often feed the dogs. A couple of sad specimens with damaged legs are the ones I feed. Dog packs share food, but its a hierarchical system and the lesser dogs often find that when the food is short, their share comes to zero. The Greek pilots, interpreters, mechanics and even the fuel truck drivers all take exception to me feeding the dogs. I find their criticism curious and one day I asked a few of them why they object to my charity. The dogs limp over, chow down and leave without a wag of tail or show of thanks. They never get underfoot, with the exception of the dachshund who is tolerated.
“So why the dislike for my feeding the dogs.” I ask the assembled Greeks one day.
“To a man,” they tell me “these dogs should be gone. They have no life and would be better dead.”
“Well!” I respond, “So, the country that invented democracy believes that you are better off kept, than living free? No wonder Greece is embracing socialism. You all want the government taking care of you from the cradle to the grave.”
The Greeks have witnessed my debating style previously and don’t jump up and beat me to a pulp.
I continued the dog debate with my Greek coworkers. “Its August,” I said “vacation month in Athens and we will see more abandoned dogs as vacationing families leave their dogs to fend for themselves. The European Union pumps a million dollars a year or more into Greece to aid in the domestic animal problem.”
“The base commander should get rid of the dogs” the Greeks tell me. “The dogs have no life here!” I argue that they have a better life than many of the dogs I see apartment bound in Athens. They have a free run of the base, once a week they have a good old fight on one of the bridges crossing the creek, they eat what they can, sleep where they want, have an unrestricted sex life and answer to no man.
I get the one shoulder shrug from my audience. They don’t agree with me. Debating with Greeks is like facing the pack, never show weakness. Perhaps the charity I bestow on the dogs is viewed as a weakness? Not leadership conduct becoming the Captain perhaps? Well a good leader makes his own choices and like my favorite bumper sticker states, the more people I meet,the more I like my dog.