Saturday, July 01, 2000

Stymphalia, Greece

I am in Kiato right now, which is an hour away by very rickety bus from Stymphalia. Email is a bit dodgy, since I probably won't be trekking out here regularly. The dig is ok, but the heat is insane and I have a cold. I share a tent with two other
girls and it is so small, you would not believe how crowded it is.

Stymphalia is great-one payphone, a shop that sells crisps and cokes, 5 tavernas, and a fish farm that turns into a "disco" on weekends. Oh, and the 25 campers share two toilets and a shower in the alleyway behind the hotel which is walled in but has no roof. The next village is a 30 min walk and has a post office, bank, and a very small grocery store. I am in the middle of nowhere!!!

Athens was experiencing a heat wave when I arrived (two hours late due to plane delays-it was still in London!) and I only went to the National Museum before collapsing in a heap. We did a few stops on the way up to the dig, but with a prof acting as tour guide who spoke in a monotone voice.


Dogs of Athens had their day

Ever since a Ukrainian archery coach was bitten by a stray, this city's pooches have started to disappear, writes MARK MacKINNON

ATHENS -- It was three years ago that the dogs of Athens started disappearing, according to Angela Fleming.

Ms. Fleming, a veterinarian who frequently takes in stray dogs to have them neutered and vaccinated, has spent years tagging animals so she can keep an eye on them. Increasingly often of late, the animals she treats vanish or turn up dead, found burnt in dumpsters or killed by crude mixtures of pesticides and rat poison.

She believes the killings are part of an unofficial attempt to remove thousands of the stray animals from the streets of Athens in time for the Olympic Summer Games.

"We know it's happening. We put the strays back on the street and they don't last six months. From 2001 to date, there's been a gradual cleanup," Ms. Fleming said.

Animal-rights activists believe that 3,000 dogs have disappeared from the city's streets in the runup to the Games.

The city's population of strays was thrust into the international spotlight last summer when a Ukrainian archery coach visiting the city for a pre-Games test event was bitten by a stay dog as he was jogging.

It was only a minor injury, but the incident raised the question of whether the Greek capital's shaggy underbelly could prove an Olympic-sized embarrassment.

Not that the dogs were a big secret. Any visitor to Athens likely has to step over a sleeping canine for a closer look at an ancient architectural site or is pestered by a whining would-be dinner companion.

The city has an estimated 15,000 strays, a population that has grown because of a lack of shelters and a national distaste for keeping animals in the home.

Some of the dogs are well cared for "community" animals, fed and looked after by residents and restaurateurs. But others are sick, poorly fed and occasionally ill-tempered.

The government responded to the attack on the coach by passing tough registration laws meant to keep Greeks from abandoning their pets and with a pamphlet campaign emphasizing the "uncivilized" appearance the strays give the city.

Someone thought the best solution would be to kill off the strays, and took a gruesome approach to civic duty. One morning last year, 60 dogs and cats were found dead in a central park, just as Greece assumed the rotating presidency of the European Union and a number of foreign dignitaries were to descend on Athens.

Paul Anastasi, a spokesman for Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyanni, said it was the most public of several such mass poisonings. "People were putting down poisons, perhaps because there were large packs of dogs or dogs making noise late at night."

Mr. Anastasi flatly denied assertions by animal-rights advocates that authorities were involved.

The city considered rounding the animals up by the thousands and impounding the strays for the duration of the Games, but anger at home and abroad forced officials to abandon the idea.

So the city is rounding up the strays, sterilizing them, inoculating them and putting them up for adoption. After two weeks dogs without homes, sporting blue tags to indicate they are not to be feared, are returned to the streets.

The measures likely will do little to lower the stray-animal population in time for the Games but may prevent another mass poisoning that could be a blow to the country's reputation.

Mr. Anastasi said tourists rarely complain about the dogs that roam freely in the shadow of the Acropolis, among other landmarks.

Still, he said, the city has an image problem and a big chance to make a good impression this summer.

"Our image, our claim to be a major EU city, the queen of the Balkans, is at stake. We can't afford for it to go wrong."

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