Compassion for innocent victims of human cruelty
AS a nation of animal-lovers, we are horrified when we read or hear tales of cruelty to our furry friends.
Although terrible things do happen here, we would be shocked to routinely see packs of emaciated stray dogs foraging for food, or newborn kittens lying on rubbish tips.
But in some European countries, that is sadly a way of life.
In Greece there are an estimated 600,000 stray dogs and many more cats.
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One Plymouth vet was so disturbed at what he witnessed that he has been dedicating his free time and skills to doing what he can for those suffering.
For the past 15 years Tim Phillips, of the Elm Veterinary Group on Outland Road, has been using his holiday time to travel to Greece and perform surgeries and other treatments on sick animals.
He said: "It's shocking. A lot of people who go on holiday become supporters and will rehome dogs. It's hard for people to understand what's going on until they've experienced it.
"For example in Greece it's commonplace to have so-called guard dogs tied up with a short chain to a tree or fence.
"If they're lucky they'll get a little water or some shelter from the sun. If they're even luckier they'll get fed every now and again.
"There's nothing like the RSPCA there and generally nobody cares if the animals are suffering."
He explained that he became involved after a client who owns a house on the island of Aegina became "very upset" about the cruelty she saw and set up a fundraising charity in the UK to finance rescue centres.
Friends of the Strays of Greece was established and its network of volunteers are now striving to make a difference.
Tim, who has worked in Plymouth for the past five years after moving from his practice in Dorset, travels to Greece every year with his wife Angie, who acts as his veterinary nurse.
They put in exhausting nine-hour days, mostly spaying and neutering in order to stop the population from growing any larger.
Harrowing stories of what he has witnessed on the island are unfortunately plentiful.
"We became aware of five dogs that had spent their entire lives trapped in a tiny space within four walls," he said.
"The owner had chucked the odd bone or bit of meat in there, but it wasn't enough.
"Two of the dogs had been killed and eaten and the others were so terrified we could hardly get close to them."
Another common and distressing occurrence is for Greeks to bring puppies over to the islands for their holidays then dump them when they go home.
Tim said: "They literally leave them on the quayside and sail away with the dogs waiting for them to come back. It's heartbreaking."
As well as the sheer volume of sick and stray animals, the volunteers also have to contend with deep hostility from locals. Tim explained: "There's a lady on the island of Thassos who runs a shelter on her own. It's right up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere.
"She was attacked by a local farmer and held at gunpoint. Luckily she was feistier than him and managed to talk her way out of it. He just didn't approve of what she is doing." He said the same shelter had to bury 50 dogs that were killed after somebody threw poisoned meat over the fence into the enclosure.
"It's not a matter of trying to show them the error of their ways," Tim added, "We're not lecturing people. It's just about doing what has to be done for the sake of the animals."
The charity now has a well-established rehoming system in place, with dogs fully vaccinated and declared healthy by the vets before being flown out of Greece. After losing his own pet recently, Tim has just adopted a border terrier-type dog from the shelter, which is settling into life in Plymouth.
"Some people question why they should help animals in another country when there are problems here," he said.
"The fact is that the rescue centres in the UK do such a great job.
"They need support too, but there is nothing like that out there. It's about caring about animals, regardless of where they are in the world."
For more information visit: http://www.straysofgreece.org/