Saturday, January 14, 2023

In Greece ~ Animals and their Angels

The committee meeting didn't start on time. 

Because so many things can cause delays in Greece, those already gathered sipped coffee and waited for our missing members.

Waiting for a meeting to start

This time the delayed members of the animal welfare event committee were late because they were busy saving animals: puppies buried under a sack of rocks in one of the village garbage dumpsters had been heard whimpering.  Luckily the kind soul who heard them reported it and the volunteer rescue team went into action. 

The planning meeting was eventually called to order. The fundraiser was a great success. And the puppies flourished!

The animal fundraiser we were planning was a success.

That is the way it works here in our expat Greek life. Those who care for the animals do both the fund-raising and the hands-on rescuing. We don't have those well-funded mega organizations like the Humane Society, or Best Friends in the United States. There are no staffed animal shelter emergency numbers or 24//7 veterinary clinics to call in Greece's rural mainland and distant island locations.  

 Mani, Costa Navarino, Kos and Kalymnos Islands

Here, the animals in a given region depend on local, devoted volunteers. We've got a network of caring individuals here in the Mani where we make our home. However, in the last year we've met other caregivers - angels on earth, as I prefer to think of them -- on our travels in our adopted country. While approaches to fund-raising and rescue differ, their work with, and for, homeless and often-times abused animals has literally saved the lives of thousands of animals in Greece. 

Today I am taking you to four areas -- Mani, Costa Navarino, Kos and Kalymnos Islands- to introduce you to the work being done in those locations and some of the volunteers who are making it happen.  We're starting close to home with: 

The Mani and Marti's Fund

Longtime readers know that Marti Bartlett was a dear friend and fellow expat whose love of animals knew no borders. She worked tirelessly for them back in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and here in Greece. In fact, for a while, she was doing both at the same time. She left us far too soon in January 2020.

A major source of funding for animal welfare

Her husband, Chuck, himself an animal advocate, has honored her memory by establishing Marti's Fund for the primary purpose of spaying and neutering cats in our area of the Mani. Not only the homeless cats, mind you, but cats belonging to or befriended by those who can't afford the cost of the medical procedure. This fund operates as a branch of the umbrella organization, MIAO, the Mani International Animal Organization, the government-sanctioned volunteer-run animal welfare organization in this area of the Peloponnese.

Chuck Bartlett with and Cat Number 400

In early December 2022, when the 400th cat in our area was sterilized thanks to Marti's Fund it was cause for celebration. That memorial fund has also provided shelters at a feral cat feeding and care program, Pantazi Cat Community, run by devoted British expat volunteers, Sue Lilly and Chris Spybey.

Pantazi Beach shelters from Marti Fund donations

I used the Marti's Fund to illustrate just one of the efforts going on in our slice of the Greek Peloponnese. However, other volunteers throughout our community are working as individuals - without fanfare or funding support - to feed, love and care for any number of needy animals. Greeks and expats alike have 'adopted' colonies of cats, providing food and medical care out of their own funds.

Cats waiting at roadside for the human who is feeding them.

The two photos, above and below, are of one of the cat colonies adopted by an individual in the village. The furry ones are often seen lined up alongside the road when it is time for him to arrive. Meanwhile, similar colonies scattered about the area wait for Stuart, a British expat, who makes several stops on his rounds to feed homeless cat colonies. Bill, a Greek Canadian resident feeds and cares for another dozen cats living in the wild at the village lighthouse. While elsewhere in the village, expats, Richard and Astrid feed and care for cats living along the harbor. In Stoupa, just down the road from us, Bill and Anne, feed and provide medical care to some 40 cats, using their own funds supplemented with some occasional donations. Restaurant and taverna owners feed other homeless cats who reside near their businesses.  

They raced to greet this human who feeds them each day.

While MAIO and Marti's Fund cats have organized fund raising events, this additional support from individual care givers are a godsend because -- even with donations -- none of the programs have enough funds or person-power to help them all.

Always in need of fur-ever homes

Cats are not the only 'fur kids' being helped, our Mani area volunteers in equal numbers are caring for, feeding, walking, socializing and sheltering homeless dogs. In addition, MIAO arranges foster care and searches for permanent homes for many of the homeless canines.

Nelli recently got a fur-ever home thanks to MIAO

While the good news is that several cats and dogs each year are adopted, the reality is that for each one adopted there seems to be another half dozen found homeless and/or abused.  And the situation isn't unique to our area. Volunteers, individually and in organized efforts, are working for the welfare of animals all over Greece.

Over at Costa Navarino

An hour and a half 's drive away from us on the western coast of the Peloponnese, we arrive at Costa Navarino, the sprawling luxury development that attracts the rich and famous as well as people like us who sometimes want a special getaway.  Best known for its luxurious surroundings for humans - five-star hotels including Westin, Romanos and W - and tournament-worthy golf courses, there's another feature at this resort that has won our hearts:   

It is their animal rescue efforts.

Anastasia with one of the fur kids at Costa Navarino

I learned about the Costa Navarino Pet Community when writing an article about the resort's most commendable conservation and sustainability efforts. Among those efforts is an animal rescue program. Who knew? 

Animal rescue compound at Costa Navarino

While working on the story we met Anastasia Paulopoulou. She is one of those I consider 'an angel on earth' kind of people. She has worked in animal rescue for years. She is paid by the resort to run the dog rescue program, coordinating volunteers and providing (alot of) hands on support for these animals who live in a compound tucked away on a corner of the resort property.  The time we spent with her as she interacted with the dogs was a highlight of our stay. 

Waiting for homes at Costa Navarino

Animal loving guests are encouraged to walk the dogs, visit the compound and with proper vetting are encouraged to adopt the dogs. Volunteers working to socialize the dogs, walk them through the resort grounds -- a win-win effort as the dogs get socialized and guests get to meet and adore them!

Waiting for a fur-ever home

The shelter is located an easy walk from guest accommodations at the Westin and not far from employee housing. Employees, we learned, are among the most active volunteers during their off-duty hours. 

On Kos Island

Kos island is part of Greece's Dodecanese Island group, just a stone's throw from mainland Turkey. We traveled there for the first-time early last spring. It takes about 30 minutes to fly there from Athens or if traveling by an overnight ferry from Piraeus, as we did, you arrive early in the morning. 

The island is enchanting, it is much larger than that speck on the map makes it appear. There are small villages, archeological sites, a vibrant Kos city. . .and an active animal rescue program.

We'd set out to explore Kos city when we met Dina Karanasiou, another one of those 'angels on earth' kind of people.  She called out a greeting as we approached her street corner display of banners, donations boxes and goods to purchase.  She explained how the Kos Animal Rescue  and fund-raising efforts of this all-volunteer team work on the island.  

Dina lives outside the city and rides the bus - more than an hour each way - into and out of the city each day to run the street-corner fund-raising operation. We made a second trip to Kos last year and I couldn't wait to pay Dina and her street-corner stand a visit.

Handmade items, tee-shirts, magnets, and souvenirs were for sale at her street corner spot.  All items are donated, and all proceeds go back to funding animal rescue and care. I buy souvenirs from Dina as it is such nice stuff.  

Cash donation box displays on Kos

As we explored Kos Town, we found cash donation display boards in other heavily touristed areas.  The simple display board is filled with photos of rescued animals as well as contact information for island veterinarians and/or volunteers to call if one has come across an injured or homeless animal. We marveled at the volunteers' ingenuity for placing one of the donation box display boards: it was right at the approach to a cash machine! 

Perfectly placed fund-raising display

Nearby Kalymnos Island

Kalymnos Cat Project

Kalymnos Island is another in the Dodecanese group, an hour's ferry ride from Kos. It is famous for its sponge-diving history and its present-day rock-climbing tourism. What we didn't know about until we saw a small notice on a community bulletin board was of its Kalymnos Cat Project.

Now before you get all in a twitter over the clipped ear in the photo above, that is how they identify cats that have been sterilized here.  Some vets during the sterilization will put a nip in the ear, others cut the ear as shown above. 

Now this Kalymnos project is spearheaded by three ladies, Leslie, Anna and Irene and was created by the French Les Chats du Mercantour in conjunction with the Kalymnos Animal Welfare Group and Kalymnos Cats.  Since its inception in 2021 some 800 cats have been sterilized using a Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) sterilization program, primarily with feral cat colonies on the island.  

Animals and their Angels

Street cat, Red, a favorite at our local taverna - not all are as lucky

The animals and their angels can be found throughout Greece. You might wonder what the topic has to do with travel, but I can assure you that traveling in Greece means meeting homeless animals.  Some are just lucky to have angels on earth looking after them.  Others will break your heart.

A homeless cat feasts on fish thanks to woman on the boat

I've included links in this post to all the programs I have mentioned.  Their websites and FB pages tell the continuing stories of animals and angels in Greece. 

Should you want to become involved with or support a program, I can assure you, you will be welcome. If you are coming to any of the areas I've written about and want to visit a program (or even better, adopt an animal) you will be most welcome!   

That's it for this week. Thanks for the time you've spent with us. Safe travels to you and yours ~


  1. Quite extraordinary people, those angels on earth! I can't get over the hotel with the animal rescue program. What a fabulous idea!

    1. Costa Navarino is a leader in these parts for conservation, restoration and helping animals. - wish others would copy them.


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