ATHENS – When The National Herald printed a story last year about efforts to rescue stray dogs in Greece, the message was that the work of groups like Above and Beyond English Setter Rescue (ABESR) and individuals like Jennifer Cloherty were finally and steadily making a difference, but this being the Coronavirus era, nothing is the same anywhere and an update is needed.
ABESR is a U.S.-based dog rescue working with shelters in Greece and other European countries to save dogs – specifically setters – from starvation and overpopulation. Cloherty is a ABESR international transport coordinator, but she spends thousands of dollars of her own money to rescue dogs every year and rescued dogs spend time at her home in Temperance, MI.
“Coronavirus has made things very difficult. Borders between the European Union, including Greece, are still closed. There are almost 70 setters in Greece waiting to come to the U.S. There are 25 homes here who have been waiting for their dogs since before the pandemic. We would have found foster homes for the others as there are so many applicants waiting.”
The normal process is to fly volunteers to Greece – Cloherty accompanies them often, in normal circumstances, almost every other month. That has been stopped cold by COVID-19, but it has not stopped dogs from being abused, neglected, or abandoned.
The situation is hard on the U.S. families that were excited about receiving their new pets, and hard on the rescuers in Greece who have no place to put the dogs as the kennel Cloherty works with in Keratea outside of Athens is filled to capacity.
“It’s better than dying in the streets,” she said, “but it’s not a good environment for the dogs. They are being fed, but being in a kennel is not like being in a home.”
“It’s also very expensive to maintain them in kennels. Normally the dogs stay for a couple of months but some have been waiting eight months now … we are spending six thousand euros a month … four euros a day per 70 dogs. ABESR is a small non-profit with no public funding, relying on donations to continue its efforts saving dogs and finding homes for them. More information about ABESR is available online: esrescue.org.
There are a few things people can do to help. “First, donations are always welcome. There a way to donate through the website and they can note they specifically want to help Greek setters,” Cloherty said. “A huge way Greek-Americans can help” she added, “is that if they hold a Greek passport, they can go to Greece and be a travel companion to bring a couple of dogs back.”
A third way people can help beyond the COVID crisis is to lobby Greek officials and politicians that they know. “Greek authorities are not so rescue-friendly. They make it extremely difficult, particularly for overseas rescuers,” she noted.
“There is a big petition that is now running, signed by a number of animal welfare organizations in Greece co-signed by overseas organizations like my own that support them, asking the Greek Prime Minister to intervene.” A link to the petition can be found on the website.
Cloherty’s Greek dog rescue odyssey has its roots in her experience with the Athens Olympics
“My first time in Greece was 2004,” when her company, G.E. sent her there, she said. “There was a lot of dialogue at the time about the stray dog population and actions the government was taking and that was my first exposure to the issue.”
She was an animal lover, growing up with dogs all her life, and she has lived all over the world since her father was an army doctor. Her international travel continued working for G.E. While she was concerned about the way the authorities we handling the issue at the time, she told The National Herald, “there wasn’t a lot I knew how to do at the time, young in my career and as a person, but it left an impression and years later when I got involved with animal rescue I got a message on Facebook … asking if we rescued dogs internationally, but we never had.”
That was three years ago, and the person told her about her friend in the town of Kozani in northern Greece who found a setter. “She asked if I could help overseas and I saw no reason why we couldn’t.”
Cloherty was put in touch with Amanda Maguire Deligianni, who runs a shelter in Kozani. “I can’t place setters anywhere here. Nobody adopts hunting dogs in Greece. Can you help?” “Sure, why not,” Cloherty said, and Deligianni, who is from England and had married a Greek man, said “I will fly them there.”
“She came over with two setters and stayed with me. She invited me to visit her shelter and a month later I flew to Greece.”
Cloherty brought back three setters, “which became five setters and to this day it’s been more than two hundred setters from Greece.”
The recent news is brighter. “Our first five setters since the pandemic began” arrived over the past two weeks, she told TNH.