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Facing Fire, SYRIZA Withdraws Bill Penalizing Animal Lovers

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(Photo by Eurokinissi/Yiannis Panagopoulos, FILE)

ATHENS - Facing withering criticism, the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA-led coalition has pulled back legislation that would have fined or imprisoned people and groups trying to help stray animals in a country with a wretched reputation for animal abuse.

Agricultural Development Minister Vangelis Apostolou said the bill would be reviewed and reopened to debate once the contentious provisions have been revised but didn’t explain why it was proposed in the first place and what the aim was.

The Ecologist Greens party had described the bill as “unacceptable,” with animal rights groups highlighting 14 aspects that they object to, said Kathimerini, especially the stiff penalties for those wanting to help strays, with packs of dogs roaming and cats abundant.

New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the bill should have been yanked and that there should be dialogue about what’s in it, calling for the law to protect animals, reduce the number of strays and provide training and information to pet owners.

The draft bill had generated protest directed at Alternate Agriculture Minister, Yiannis Tsironis from a tiny ecologists movement in the government, said the business newspaper Naftemporiki, with the legislation also proposing a "zoophilia fund" in every municipality, the obligatory tagging of all pets - mainly via an implanted chip that owners would pay for - and the animals' listing on some sort of state database, the paper said.

In effect, the new law would require a kind of passport for pets with information on them listed in a public document and require veterinarians to apply the universal tagging system.

Fines would have reached a maximum of 3,000 euros ($3719) for violations dealing with failure to neuter and spay pets and failure to register pets and would also have stiffed the fines and penalties for animal abuse or killing animals.

That came only a couple of days after a video emerged of two former soldiers abusing a dog and throwing it down a cliff, with the men saying it was an “unfortunate incident” and that they didn’t mean to hurt the dog they were hurting.

The two men claimed that they were taking daily care of the dog, a stray, and asked for the public not to be too harsh in its judgment of them.

The video was shot on a mobile phone at a military camp in Konitsa, northeastern Greece, and went viral on social media, triggering public anger and a promise from Defense Minister to look into it although the men are now civilians.

Earlier in March, British violinist and animal rights activist Vanessa Mae complained about “high percentage of animal abuse in Greece” in a promotional video posted on the web by the Ilioupolis Animal Welfare Union, a not-for-profit animal rescue organization.

Highlighting the large number of stray animals on Greek streets, Mae said the only way to contain their numbers is to “spay and neuter.”

“If you want to own a pet adopt a stray, but only if you are sure you can fulfill its needs,” she said, adding that everyone must report animal abuse to police. “Friends cannot be bought. Open your heart and save a stray,” she said.