I needed a short sunny break from cloudy London and was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit my friend in Naxos, Greece. After booking my flights only a week in advance, I did some research to see if there were any animal charities on the island. I found Naxos Animal Welfare Society (NAWS), I emailed them right away offering to volunteer some of my time.
Communication was easy and fast via Facebook messenger. The day came where I had arranged to meet Matina at 10:30am out the front of the local hospital. She picked my friend and I up and drove us to the dog shelter which was about a 15 minute drive away. During this time it gave us a chance to have a chat about the organisation. The charity began in 2005, but the shelter opened in 2008. The place we were driving to had 40 adult dogs on site. There was another site which housed approximately 15 puppies, which unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to visit this trip.
I learnt that the cats on the island don’t have a designated shelter, they continue to live on the streets. The charity have placed several feeding stations around the island, to ensure they are not going hungry. During the summer months they are well fed by locals and tourists. In winter there are less people around, so these feeding stations are important for their survival. The cats are also captured and neutered during the winter months to help manage the population.
It was probably best these cats were not kept in a shelter environment as they would likely live their life inside due to the unlikelihood of them being re-homed. They are much better suited to live on the streets. The cats I came across were clean, friendly and never a bother.
Although the cats are able to survive on the streets of Naxos, dogs would find it a lot harder. The welfare society is doing the best they can to house all the dogs that come into their possession. Unfortunately the welfare of dogs in the community is not a high priority. Dogs are kept to guard or help on a farm, rarely for a companion like you may expect. Money is tight in Greece and often the people don’t have enough to look after their dogs properly. They can’t provide decent housing from the elements, food or veterinary care. This is when dogs are often dumped on the street or at the front of the dog shelter. Animal cruelty is a big concern, with many reports being made and followed up on, thanks to this charity.
It was already hot by the time we arrived at the shelter. We got out of the car, closed the doors and instantly heard the chorus of dogs howling, excited their carer had arrived. As we walked up the path towards the front gate we noticed a dog a few meters ahead of us. The dog was alive but unable to move away. Originally I thought it was a dog that had escaped. However since it wasn’t running off, I quickly realised it was tied to the tree. He was in the sun, tied tightly with no water in sight. The poor boy was terrified and very timid. Once we were able to untie the rope, Matina carried him to the shelter.
At the front gate the dogs inside were very excited, barking and howling at the sight of this new arrival. The poor dog, dumped by his family, left in the sun and now coming into this unnatural environment. Matina was fantastic. She got him a collar and lead, placed him in the kitchen with some food and water and allowed him his space to settle and take in his new situation.
Over the next few weeks he would be closely monitored as he becomes more comfortable, to determine which pen/pack he would best be suited to join. The introductions take a lot of time and careful consideration, as the safety and welfare of the dogs is their most important concern.
The staff would prefer these dogs didn’t have to live here, but there is not a lot of options for them. It was sad to learn that many have been in this shelter for years and will potentially never leave. Re-homing a dog in Greece is not likely, which is a shame because they were all so friendly. They do however adopt dogs to other European countries. The number one country is actually Germany!
NAWS is charged like any other paying customer for their veterinary fees, they don’t receive a discount like you may expect. Any new owner re-homing a dog pays a donation fee which covers the dogs neutering, worming and flea/tick treatment. The charity then pays for the dogs transportation to the adopted country, which I find incredible. It’s very costly to transport animals, so this is extremely generous. I believe the new owners should at least pay half of the fee, since the charity should be focusing and directing their limited funds to the animals still in their care. However that’s just my opinion.
During our time at the shelter we helped with cleaning and racking their pens, scrubbing water buckets and replacing with fresh water. Before we entered the pens, Matina tied the dogs up before giving them their own bowl of food. This allowed each dog to feel more comfortable, knowing the other dogs wouldn’t bother them during their meal. It also allowed us to come into their pen to clean and tidy without being hassled.
Some dogs were housed alone, others were in pairs or more. Some dogs didn’t need to be tied up, but in any case those who were, were never tied up for long and they could always reach shade and water during this time. Matina new each and every dog, their names, their story and the suffering they endured before arriving. All the dogs we met and interacted with were extremely friendly and sociable. Here is a video of the shelter.
NAWS has 10 “staff” who are actually volunteers and thus not paid for their hard work and dedication. They also have a number of other volunteers which fluctuates during winter and summer. I counted about 12 pens in total, with 4 dogs housed outside the pens in different areas within the grounds. These dogs were the newest arrivals yet to be introduced into a pack.
The dogs are fed daily and are taken for walks when there is a volunteer available. They are checked on twice daily, once in the morning and again in the evening. It took us 3 hours to clean, water and feed all 40 dogs, with three of us working. The staff usually do this alone, so it takes a lot longer. This gave Matina some time to get other tasks done that she may not have had time to do if we weren’t around to help.
You can check out their website to learn more and support their efforts. If you are ever in Naxos remember to contact NAWS and let them know you would love to help out. You will be helping not only the carers but the dogs too, as they are so happy and eager for the extra attention!