In August I get a call from a young woman in Athens. Anastasia comes from Karia, a small town in the mountains, and asks me to take care of capturing and neutering three stray bitches in her home village. When I ask her how to pay for this, she says that she will pay the vet bill for all three dogs if I take care of the rest. I am very pleased that someone shows so much commitment and I am happy to contribute to prevent the next puppy misery. "The castrations are the first in the animal protection," says Natasha. She is right about that.
Matula helps me to catch the animals, I will take care of the castration at the veterinarian and the aftercare at home afterwards. While we are there in Karia, a quite extensively tattooed camouflage trouser wearer addresses us and asks who we are and why we want to catch the dogs.
The fact that we are just private people who take care of castrating strays in villages where we don't live to prevent the suffering of dogs we don't even know (and who haven't even been conceived yet) doesn't seem to be understandable to him. A large part of the Greek population believes, in complete ignorance of the circumstances, that people who catch dogs send them to Germany, Holland and England to sell them profitably as laboratory animals to laboratories.
Suspiciously, the man watches the hour-long spectacle of feeding and befriending and finally sees how we stow two of the three bitches in Matula's car. The third bitch does not approach. We are told that he has been beaten and indeed he has fresh wounds on her nose and between her eyes. She is very scared and suspicious. We give up and are just about to leave when the man quietly tells us that there is an animal in the village that needs help.
"He has a chain or something in his throat" says the man. "This dog is slowly decomposing alive. I do the funerals here, I know what I'm talking about."
"Where is he?" I ask.
"I don't know where he is right now, but I know where he eats sometimes. But nobody must know that the grandmother is still throwing food to him. Otherwise there will be trouble. "That's death walking, people say."
"Let's talk on the phone," I say. "I have to take care of the others now." It's getting dark soon and I have to see how I can keep the two animals safe tonight. My house is already full of emergency dogs and it is not so easy.
At night I have bad dreams and see a decomposing dog huddled in despair and pain, unable to free itself from its martyrdom. The man I gave my number to is no longer answering. Two days later I learn that there has been an accident in Karia and two funerals are pending.
"I can't get the dog in Karia out of my mind" says Sandra, with whom I talk on the phone very often. "Make sure you get that."
Matula and I also have to think about the animal all the time, but we both have a lot to do and hardly any time to do the work that usually comes up. So I set off for Karia and ask myself through the neighborhoods looking for the dog. I experience some rejection, just as if it was my personal fault that such an animal with its presence and its apparently unbearable smell bothers people.
I get to know that this is a young female dog, who somebody probably tied a rope around her when she was a puppy, which then grew into her neck as the animal grew. In the beginning they fed her and gave her shelter in one or the other shed, but now everybody is afraid that she is somehow contagious. The fear of being infected with something bad is very widespread. They show me water holes that were covered especially for that reason. "We don't want her to drink there or die there and contaminate everything."
The longer I search the large area, the more impossible it seems to me to find out where the beast is.
On the first day of my search, I return home without having achieved anything.
In the evening of the second day of my search I see the young bitch for the first time and can throw her food prepared with tranquilizers from a distance. She does not approach a standing or sitting person any more, so I lie on the floor. I also have to put my hands behind my back so that she can take the food at all. Hands scare her, feet scare her.
About one and a half hours pass in which we approach each other while watching, until someone enters the alley and stops.
I mean for him to go on, but he doesn't, and now more and more people are joining us.
Some people think I am sick or crazy now that I am lying on the floor in the deserted alley.
That must be a strange sight too, I think to myself.
Some also want to help catch the animal. Unfortunately this is not helpful at all, because the shy bitch is hiding from people.
"You can't catch them, we've been trying for weeks."
There are plenty of opinions exchanged, who did what when, and what to do to finally get rid of the evil.
Then a few more young men are added and the plans, which are then loudly forged, go from the use of fishing nets to drift-hunting scenarios in which the hunters' dogs are to be used.
Before this develops any further and the capture of the bitch could become a cruel entertainment sport, I claim, as bored as possible, that I am no longer interested in such an uncooperative dog, who is soon dead anyway, go to my car and drive away.
When I return after half an hour, the casserole has disappeared, but so has the bitch. I call quietly, but nothing moves anymore. It is now 1am, I am disappointed and very tired.
When I get to my car, there is a woman standing there in the dark, who seems to be waiting for me: "Listen", she says "you can't catch them like that, they have already tried. She was cute when she was little, but then she got so many kicks because she is contaminated - she doesn't go to people anymore.
"The rope must have been in there for a long time, why hasn't anyone fixed it?" I ask.
"Because it can't be touched."
"Not even when she was younger?
"They didn't pay much attention at first, but later when it started to stink and there was blood.
Instead of cursing, I say: "Oh, I see."
"If I can help you, I will. I feel very sorry for her. When I think of all the pain she must be going through..."
"Yes," I say, "this must be hell."
"It's funny that she's still alive... she wants to live."
"Live? Is that perhaps a life? ..... That does not go also no longer long. It is a question of a few days."
"What can you do?" says the woman shrugging her shoulders.
"Maybe antibiotics first, so she doesn't poison herself until we can catch her.... Can you feed her?"
"I don't know, I used to be able to do that. I can try. I know where it goes like this"
"Can you go to the vet tomorrow and buy antibiotics? I don't have time tomorrow."
"Yes, I will."
"Here, take the sausage, chop up the medicine, and put the mixture in her bag if you see her... or know where she might be. I'll call the vet tomorrow and tell him you're picking something up."
"Endaxi, let's try it."
"I'll come back tomorrow night when I'm done and people are asleep."
"Yeah, that's better... your name?"
"I am Fotini," says the woman.
"Do you think they have souls too?"
"Personally, I believe that, even if they say otherwise. They know pain and fear just like we do, at least that's what you see when you don't want to be blind," answers Fotini.
What a nice woman, I think. And how telling that she wants to hide her animal welfare to avoid getting into trouble in the village.
Meanwhile I know quite a few Greeks on the island who always have cats and dog food in their trunks and feed hungry street animals, they all tell me that I'm not allowed to tell anyone.
Fotini and I exchange our phone numbers and say goodbye.
The next evening late I drive back to Karia and search the area.
Someone told me that she let the dog sleep in his shed when she was little. But now all doors are locked. I ask the man to open this shed again, so that she might seek refuge there and I can find her.
"What are you talking about? We closed all the holes in the area. I've got my stuff in there and it only brings diseases, do you really want us all to be poisoned?
"What do you want with that dog?" "If his wife interferes, leave us alone." I can't go on like this.
The next night, I drive back to Karia. Flöckchen, a little dog that I took in as a puppy with his six siblings in May, after they were found in the garbage, accompanies me.
Flöckchen is a paragon of friendliness and despite his young age, he reacted very calmly and mediatingly to difficult dogs that I had to integrate into the pack. Therefore I believe that he can help me to build up trust in the frightened bitch.
This is his first assignment outside our yard.
We search until dawn. Hopefully nobody will think I am a thief. Fotini had told me that there is an old condemned house at the edge of the village. "Don't go in there. It's a dump."
But something tells me that I have to search there as well, and when I finally find it, I lose my courage. It is all so dilapidated that I don't know where to step.
When I enter, a disgusting smell of decay hits me.
She must have been here, maybe she is still here?
It is pitch dark and I can only use the light of my cell phone. I can take photos with flash and then look at them on my cell phone. This is how I work my way forward.
To my left is a door and I imagine I heard a noise. In front of the door is the ruin of an iron bed. I use it to block the exit and then climb over the bed into the dark room. The shutters are closed and I can't see anything, it stinks to the God's mercy and I have to fight a violent nausea.
As my eyes get used to the darkness, I recognize a big bed that fills almost the whole room. With my cell phone I take a picture with flash and it seems to me that I saw something under the bed.
I take another picture, directly on the bed and then I see this on my cell phone.
Now I am quite sure and with joy I even forget my nausea for a moment. There she is! Now there is hope that she can be helped.
I prepare everything carefully, get my flake and a big cage, because I place it close to the bed. I smear a surgical mask with Vicks Vaporup and put it on my nose, because I know that I have to keep still for a long time.
I am disgusted by all the dirt and lay a sheet I brought with me on the floor covered with rat droppings. Fortunately I am experienced enough to have a good equipment in my car for such operations.
I prepare pieces of sausage with and without tranquilizers, and when I have everything together, I dare to take a flash photo directly under the bed.
A growl can be heard and now I can look at the animal on my cell phone.
She feels pushed into a corner and is full of panic.
Now I have to be patient and calm.
Dogs that have been mistreated by humans often react well when they see that another dog trusts a human.
I lie down very close to the bed and start feeding flakes of tiny pieces of sausage. Again and again, in a quiet voice and almost without movement. I lie flat on the floor so she can see me and I don't seem threatening. I cannot see her, but after half an hour I have the impression that she is moving towards us.
Now I throw a two sausage pieces in her direction and hope that she slowly comes closer.
After another hour and a half we are ready for her to stick her head out...
... and soon after touched my hand. Now I can also give her a sedative. Traumatized dogs often react paradoxically to tranquilizers when they are afraid and then get even more upset. Therefore the dog must be at rest before I can administer it.
I want to see what is going on with her and take another photo, just below her neck. And then I see clearly what is causing this stench. The flesh is rotting away deep inside.
We need another half hour until the animal has gained enough confidence to let me slowly guide her into the cage.
Then I have her! Föckchen, my little helper has done a great job. Without him it would never have worked!
So a very cooperative and clever little street dog. But now quickly to the vet, I need help to get the heavy box with the dog over the rough terrain to the car. Fotini had given me her number in case I needed help. But now, when I call her, she whispers and tells me that she can't come right now because she is standing in the church and has to sing.
I answer that I am sure that the good Lord would prefer her to help a maltreated being of His creation to be freed from terrible pain instead of singing songs.
This seems somehow obvious to her and she actually leaves the service. Together we drag the box to the car and I drive off. On the way I inform the vet. He had promised me to treat the bitch at any time if I can catch her.
Arrived at the vet, he immediately puts her under anesthesia and operates
A rope was deeply ingrown as the bitch grew bigger, but fortunately the larynx, oesophagus and windpipe were barely intact. They put a coffee on my table with the words: "You look like shit and you stink. "Thanks," I say, "very kind."
When it's all over, we put the bitch in my car and I put her in the bathroom so the others don't attack her. I also lock up Flackchen so that she is not afraid when she comes to. I give her plenty of painkillers for the next days.
Without pain she has a completely different look.
Karia recovers relatively quickly and she almost actually trusts slowly. She walks around freely, running away doesn't occur to her at all. She gets bigger and happier every day and starts to play frolicsomely.
Two months later Karia was very lucky again, because she found people who took her in.
A year has passed and last month I visited her in Germany in her wonderful new home. I saw her playing and romping around the meadows and heard people asking what a great dog she was and what breed.
-This is a pure "Lefkada Dog", my favorite breed!
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