Some random thoughts on this subject…
Living in another country, and in a small rural village like Papagianades, really forces you to think about some stuff. With our English soppy-about-pets and disconnected-from-reality attitude to animals, some things come as quite a shock: the casual cruelty, the killing of cats and dogs and the seeming hatred some Greeks have of these animals. But then reality starts to impinge and you start thinking.
Some Greeks keep dogs, or cats, or both and generally can’t afford vet bills, frequent flea treatments and, most importantly, the hundreds of Euros it costs to have these animals neutered. The result of this is boxes of puppies dumped outside supermarkets, or bags of kittens dumped in ditches. It’s a kind of cowardice, it’s not taking responsibility – another result of which is unwanted family pets dumped at the side of the road. Maybe some will find my attitude harsh, but I feel a pet owner has three choices: give it a home, find it a home, or kill it quickly and cleanly.
In our village there are three people who feed the stray cats: one feeds about 21, another feeds 12 whilst yet another feeds about 30. I learnt this from one of our neighbours, Yorgos. He keeps a patch of land in the village on which he grows fruit trees, and I’ve always wondered why the ground underneath is bare. Why not grow melons, cucumbers, tomatoes and, in fact, any of the crops that grow here so readily? He doesn’t grow these things because the seeds, seedlings and adult plants are forever being uprooted by the numerous cats using his land as a litter tray. He understandably is reluctant to eat melons smeared with cat shit or lettuces that have been pissed on.
You have to consider how a gardener feels when one of the constant pleasures of his job is soil smelling of cat piss and fly-blown cat shit on his hands. You also have to consider too how numerous often hungry cats, and dogs, will mix with free-range chickens. How does a Greek who has kept chickens all his life, and lost many of them to stray cats and dogs, regard such animals? He and the gardner will see them as stealing food from their mouths and destroying the product of their labour. They will quite probably come to hate such animals and quite likely pass that attitude on to their children. They will demonize them, calling them dirty, smelly, food stealing flea-ridden disease carriers and, to a certain extent, they will not be wrong.
Consider the attitudes of various city dwellers across the world; those who feed pidgeons, and those who consider them to be flying rats. Consider residents and sometime residents of Britain’s coastal towns; those who view seagulls as beautiful flying creatures and part of the atmosphere, and those who have to clear up the detritus of torn-open bin bags, whose roofs get wrecked by nesting gulls, gutters blocked with stinking detritus and whose cars regularly wear a layer of guano.
In Britain we poison and trap mice and rats because, well, they’re dirty smelly food stealing flea-ridden disease carriers yet, there are those who keep them as pets. The first version are vermin, the second are not. I was once asked by someone what a weed is, to which the reply is that it is a plant growing in the wrong place, not producing what you want or doing what you want it to do. Isn’t it logically the case that the same question posed about vermin should receive a similar answer? How else do we make a distinction? Should certain animals have a get-out clause based on their cuteness and cuddlyness, their asthetic appeal?
Ask yourself: why does a cat have more of a right to live than the substantially more intelligent animal we regularly turn into bacon?
One final thought occurs to me about the situation here. Why do we not have a similar attitude to such animals in Britain? Even fifty or more years ago, though the attitude was closer, it was nowhere near as strong. The answer, maybe, comes in two parts: climate and human population density. We don’t have problems with large breeding populations of strays because there’s very little room, amidst 60 million people, for such populations to grow without being spotted and dealt with and, frankly, most of them end up as road kill. Also, year on year, a lot less of them survive the winter than do here.
Talking to various people about other places across the world I have to wonder if it is a truism that hot poor countries have a bad attitude to cats and dogs because they survive and breed like vermin, and because the people there simply cannot afford them.