A Woman’s Fight for Greece’s Stray Cats

Xristiana Karathanasi is no ordinary woman. Her extraordinary compassion and energy drive her to make a difference in the lives of countless stray cats in Thessaloniki. As a result, she has improved the quality of life for all residents around her.

In 2015, Karathanasi had 611 cats neutered, preventing them from endlessly reproducing. She was successful in finding 52 of them loving homes, removing them forever from the streets.

Instead of complaining, she put together an effective plan and with the assistance of a few friends and foreign rescues, she is implementing what she believes to be the key to controlling the stray cat population in Greece.

I first learned of Karathanasi from a Facebook post she made of a cat named Athina whose story garnered attention from near and far. Athina was one of three cats Karathanasi found in her neighborhood whose heads were burned with acid.

The cat was in poor shape, struggling to survive. The top of her head and her ears had been purposefully burned off and the wounds had come dangerously close to her eyes. Without assistance, Athina would have certainly died a horrible death.

Fortunately, Karathanasi was able to get them the necessary medical attention. Athina still remains in the hospital and has undergone a series of procedures including an unsuccessful skin graft to cover her exposed skull.

I asked Karathanasi if she knew how Athina was injured. “I believe there is a man in the neighborhood who has mental health issues that is doing this to the cats.”

She has received donations from around the globe to pay for Athina’s extensive medical care. “People are always willing to contribute for an injured animal; however, no one ever wants to contribute to help me spay them.

“My priority is not to rescue. My first priority is TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release). Anyone that does not agree with TNR, does not care about the strays and the problem in Greece. This is why I manage to neuter more than 600 cats a year.”

TNR is a widely popular humane program, practiced both in the United States and abroad. It is designed to protect and improve the lives of stray cats in communities while stabilizing the population.

Conservative estimates predict that one female cat will produce more than 400 kittens in 7 years. If left to reproduce, she and her offspring will result in upwards of 2,905 cats. Unspayed strays increase exponentially, impacting their lives and the community at large.

TNR is the only method proven to be effective and humane at controlling stray cat population growth. The cats are safely trapped, neutered, given appropriate vaccines, ear tipped to be easily identified and released back into the community where caretakers provide for them. This method ends reproduction and improves the quality of the cat’s life without the need for finding homes.

Of course, every stray deserves a warm, loving home, but that is unattainable. TNR has worked so well with cats, it is now being tried with stray dogs. It is gaining popularity and having proven results. Karathanasi sees it firsthand on the Thessaloniki streets.

“The difference that neutering made is now obvious in the areas in Fourka and Kalithea. Very few new kittens were born and the largest part of the population is now under control. It is not easy to trap the cats, to move them to the place where they will have surgery, to work like crazy the day of the surgery and then the next day to release them back to their areas. They must be fed and their cages cleaned. Many, many times, I feel that my legs do not follow me, and I can not move my hands. It is very hard work.”

Despite the difficulty, Karathanasi perseveres. Her statistics are impressive. In 2014, she had neutered 632 cats; the year before 772 stray cats and 30 stray dogs, in addition to finding 74 animals homes.

Despite obstacles, Karathanasi is hopeful that the atmosphere will change. “I feel things in Greece are slowly changing. People who didn’t believe in neutering and use to criticize the spaying of animals, now see the results and know the importance, but the change is slow, very slow. No one is interested in the strays. They refuse to help. People abandon their pets without thought for them. There are very few volunteers in Greece, it is almost unknown. Everything is just for money, especially in this difficult time for our country.”

There is something within Karathanasi that drives her to continue; to want the streets of Greece cleared of suffering animals. We should all applaud and support these grass roots efforts.

More information about helping the cause is available at facebook.com/karathanasi.

(SOPHIA SEMBOS)