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Published March 2004 - Last updated October 2008
Pride, Poison and Prejudice around the Parthenon.

How Greece created the Olympic dream at the cost of thousands of homeless animals.

Click here for more pictures - CAUTION VERY UPSETTING IMAGES

chained dog

In Brief...
Animal rescue groups in Greece are falsely accused of trafficking stray dogs and cats out of the country to make profit from fur and vivisection. An incident at a Greek airport in March 2004 escalated into a nationwide scandal, based on a complete mistruth. Greek rescue organisations said the misleading TV and newspaper reports jeopardized the lives of thousands of stray dogs and cats in the run-up to and after the Olympics.

2005... Garagouni was at it again - In February 2005 Ioanna Garagouni (also spelt Karagkouni) interfered once more with the transportation of stray dogs on route to new adopters in Germany - See full story

Greek media spread more myths - West Europeans apparently eat dogs. Full story below.


John O'Donnell examines the continual conflict surrounding animal welfare mismanagement inside Greece, and reports on false accusations at a Greek airport that triggered an outbreak of slanderous journalism across the country. How did such stories affect the mindset of a proud Greek public during the run-up to the Olympic Games in August 2004? This three part feature also looks at global media coverage of countries cited as being cruel to animals, from both domestic and international viewpoints …

Part One...

Have you heard the one about the German, Scottish, Belgian and Greek woman at an Athens Airport?
This is no politically incorrect Euro-joke but the scene-setter for a bizarre chain of events, involving stray animals and an overdose of Greek jingoism.

The story begins at Athens airport on March 11th 2004 .
An elderly woman called Ioanna Garagouni (also spelt Karagkouni) of The Coalition of Animal Welfare Groups Greece, accompanied by her lawyer and Alpha Greek TV news cameras, appeared at Athens airport and approached a Greek girl and two foreign helpers flying out rescued animals. On camera, Garagouni allegedly accused the innocent rescue worker and her colleagues of trafficking animals for fur and vivisection. Commotion ensued, and the police were called in to try and restore order.
Subsequently, the rescued puppies and cats where stopped from being flown to adopting families in north-west Europe.

By that evening Alpha TV were broadcasting the incident on the main news. The news report was titled "Cruelty Prevented" and turned out to be entirely biased towards Garagouni's allegations, claiming that the animals were being flown out to be killed for fur or experimentation (rather than the truth, which was to loving homes in Holland, Belgium, Germany and the UK). The report also failed to point out that Garagouni's grotesque accusations could not be substantiated by any evidence whatsoever.
In fact, the truth, which the public never got to find out, was that the innocent girl and the other rescuers left the airport with no charge. But the damage was now done and the knock-on affect was to become detrimental to the future of thousands of stray animals still on the streets - and for years to come.
Within days, the false story had been picked up by the national newspapers and padded out with more sensationalism and rumour as it spread. A duped Greek public were so incensed by this apparent "truth" that the incident continued to escalate into a hyperbole of nationalistic finger-pointing. This was "proof" that apparently gave some Greeks credence to believe that foreigners, and not themselves, were the motivators of animal cruelty linked to their country.

Myth and Motivation

The airport incident had been so badly reported and so biased towards Garagouni's claims that the country now seemed to be revelling in a completely false yarn.
In fact, on that day at the airport Garagouni also tried to convince airport customs that the rescuers didn't have the right animal travel documents. It turns out they did, since the documents in dispute weren't even due to come into effect until July of that year, and are part of the EU's new animal passport rules. This was backed up by a fax from the Greek Ministry of Agriculture sent to the airport during the incident. It was a copy of the European regulation which proved that Garagouni's claims of new rules weren't yet applicable and confirmed that the animals' travel documents were sufficient. The new rules would indeed make it next to impossible for Greek strays to be flown to new homes abroad without great expense through a complicated validation procedure.
It turned out that the patriotic Garagouni is well known for her attacks against the kinds of groups her "coalition" is apparently designed to support, but at the same time has gained some influence over Greek authorities on animal matters. Those groups she has accused had researched the apparent "coalition" status of her organisation and it seemed that such a title appeared to be misleading - "Coalition" implies that she represents a large number of groups around the country, but the truth seemed to be that this self-appointed attorney on animal welfare represented only a simple group. The prime targets for her assaults appeared to be freestyle animal rescue-and-adopt groups and Good Samaritan type helpers who fly out dogs and cats to new homes in foreign countries. And with this in mind, Garagouni continued her attack on the innocent rescue groups with a press release issued by her "coalition".
Seemingly determined to impress both public and the media of her authority in matters of animal rescue and their eventual destination, Garagouni questioned why these rescue groups don't "accept the strict rules foreseen by the law …" She went on to state, "These countries (Holland, Belgium, UK etc.) are very far away, in order to watch the survival of animals, when this is difficult even in Greece. They (the rescue organisations) show some photo albums with some families with dogs, and they claim they are fine. But where are the thousands that travel abroad ending up?"
In other words, Mrs Garagouni was questioning the authenticity of photo documentation provided by the accused rescue groups.
With an air of cynicism, Garagouni preceded her questioning with "And I wonder …" And what she also appeared to be wondering was that since dogs are plentiful in northwest Europe why do these foreigners need Greek dogs if not to turn them into fur products or for experimentation?
In a press interview, she was asked whether she believed that Greek strays are being sent abroad for vivisection. She retorted, "What other explanation is there …?" Garagouni was not able to cite any source to prove her "beliefs".
But it seems some Greeks took patriotic refuge amongst her words, and besides the country's media there were now even Greek websites proudly supportive of the ludicrous claims that pictures of northwest Europeans posing with their rescued dogs on German and Dutch couches were simply fakes. They claimed that the photos were staged by the "rescuers" to try and prove their innocence. Fake Iraqi prisoner picture publishers or the staged moon landings brigade had new competition, because believe it or not, these conspiracy theorists appeared to be analysing the doggy pictures to try and prove that the furniture and people in the photos were Greek and not Dutch or British etc… The mind boggles at the thought of dastardly Greek animal traffickers hiding boxes of props in their sheds - blonde wigs, bowler hats, clogs, lederhosen and an assortment of Ikea furnishings.

Click here for more pictures - CAUTION VERY UPSETTING IMAGES Click here for more pictures - CAUTION VERY UPSETTING IMAGES

Here's Andreas, now called Theo. He was hit by a car in Keratsini Greece, The rescuers had to have him operated on twice. He was also treated for venereal disease and infected ears. He stayed in fostering for 6 months (picture on left). This dog cost the rescuers around 1.300 euros to restore to health and the picture on the right is Theo with his new owner in Holland.
Bizarrely, it's pictures like these that Garagouni's followers think are fakes, apparently to cover-up the dogs "true" destiny as a fur coat or for vivisection.
Click here for more pictures - caution very upsetting images

Greek TV and news spread more myths - West Europeans apparently eat dogs.

The Greek media really seemed to have it in for the West Europeans and continued to distort truths in the most extraordinary ways. In June 2004, directors of a meat wholesaler in Belgium were arrested after it was discovered that meat meant for tinned dog food was ending up in sausages for human consumption (hot dogs in fact).
The Greek media and Greek extremist websites picked up on this proclaiming that the meat actually from dogs was being put into sausages.
This latest Greek myth appeared to have started when Orange mobile phones website Ananova, published the potentially misleading story. Their headline originally said "Dog meat used in hot dogs" instead of "Dog food used in hot dogs" That one little word made all the difference to the Greek media who hadn't bothered to read the rest of the news item, a report which made facts clearer towards the end.
LGVN (this site) contacted Orange pointing out their misleading wording and the news item was corrected. But corrections are all too late and irrelevant as far as the Greek media is concerned; TV and newspapers continue to spread stories across the country suggesting, in effect, that the "foreigners" of West Europe eat dog.
For a deceived Greek public, that latest yarn only added fuel to their belief that strays are sent abroad for fur and experiments ... because now apparently, the Brits, Belgians, and Dutch etc, eat them as well.

Double Indemnity

But this isn't just a story about discrimination and a country's animal control methods. It also unfolds through the eyes of the more compassionate side of Greece and the people themselves, many who are strongly opposed to the injustices that stem from its own authorities - and some of its people - regarding unwanted animals.
As in any country, there's no doubt that Greece may harbour a tiny minority of cruel animal traffickers but the passion for rescuing Greek dogs and cats for homing with caring owners has never been so popular.
This is where the extraordinary logic of Ms Garagouni's press release requires a further look. She points out that it's illegal to perform euthanasia in Greece, so why should animals need to be sent out of the country to be saved, she argues. Right she may be - technically - but the law didn't stop someone from poisoning thousands of strays around Athens in the run-up to the Olympics. And those few who may have survived still suffer neglect and starvation on the streets, so rescue and homing in other countries is clearly a welcome option for these dejected animals. Greek authorities deny having anything to do with the systematic slaughtering of street animals, and Garagouni somehow seems dismissive or else in denial of these atrocities in her own country.
However, the cat was out of the bag so to speak, and both caring Greeks and foreigners worked round the clock to save the remaining animals. But as several animal welfare workers in Athens tried to get the required papers for travel, along with veterinarian confirmation, they were being refused on all fronts. This seemed to tie in with Garagouni's move to get authorities to act and stop any further transportation of rescued stray animals to other countries.
A thoroughly confused Greek Ministry of Agriculture now seemed to believe all they had read in the press. Regardless of the fax they sent to Athens airport on that day in March, they seemed to change their tune and subsequently sent out a circular to all Greek airports telling them to stop anyone attempting to fly out strays to new homes abroad. In effect, the ministry were now exercising the new EU rules in advance of the July start date, but it seems, adding rules of their own. This was no doubt to appease Garagouni's protests and calm down a restless Greek public. Animal rescuers found that the situation had become impossible, since they were unable to fly out any of their animals. They said that the airline authorities were in total confusion about the validity of clearance papers and subsequently refused passage to any rescued animal.
Meanwhile, those who continued to follow Garagouni's bandwagon firmly believed - and still do believe - that hundreds of fur traffickers disguised as animal rescuers are shipping thousands of animals out of Greece for evil doings in foreign places.
Innocent animal rescuers are also being accused of making untold fortunes from selling strays to foreign countries for around 35 Euros. The accused groups point out that besides the fact that they don't make any money from their charity work, it actually costs hundreds of Euros to provide the animal's veterinary treatment along with their flight arrangements.
You would think this detail, along with a mountain of evidence, would help put an end to any further myths claiming that these innocent girls are selling strays for fur and experiments to nasty foreign black-market criminals. But on the contrary; pre-Olympic Greece seemed to have become a country immersed in a firm patriotic belief of false press reports. There seemed no end to its media basking in self-appeasing propaganda.
Arguments from the Garagouni school of thought even claim that Britain has just as bad a stray animal problem as Greece. If Britain says this is untrue because most pets in the UK are spayed and neutered to avoid overpopulation, the Greeks respond by saying that stray animals are hardly seen on the UK streets because the British destroy them all.

Truth or Dare

Ignoring the fact that those people whom Garagouni accused at Athens Airport that day could completely prove their innocence, it looks like she is going to stand firm by her beliefs ad infinitum. Since a profound apology from the lady is never likely to happen, the accused were preparing to take Garagouni, plus the TV and newspapers to court.

The accused are still numbed with disbelief since the airport incident that day in March 2004. They also wished to remain as anonymous as possible but had already received threatening phonecalls from people clearly brainwashed by the false reports. But the accused are not alone in their fight to prove their innocence to the Greek public. Many welfare groups and colleagues inside and outside Greece are still determined to set the record straight.
Across Europe thousands of owners of Greek strays continue to rally support. They are clearly very real people with very real photos, providing whatever evidence they can to prove that Garagouni and much of the Greek media have got it completely wrong. However, by late Feburary 2005 Garagouni accompanied by Alpha TV were at it again. For more see the The Piraeus Incident

Before you flip to Part 2 of this article, here is a press release from the accused parties.

"Following the recent publications in the Greek press and TV, concerning the massive exports abroad of companion animals for illegal reasons and contrary to the law for animal protection, we express anger against the ungrounded accusations from a group calling themselves "The Coalition of Animal Welfare Groups of Greece". Their unsubstantiated accusations intentionally generates to the public opinion a false belief, that other Greek animal welfare groups send animals to Europe and elsewhere to be used for fur, collagen or experimentation.

If these accusations contained even grains of truth, then the accusers have the obligation to present specific data in order to prove their claims, and so set the record straight.

Instead, their general and vague accusations, decorated with nationalistic and scornful crescendos against the countries of Europe, directly offend the generous animal loving work of all the animal welfare groups and persons working with European organizations. Not to mention the main "victims" being the animals themselves, which roam unwanted in the Greek streets, simply because some refuse to accept that animal care has no borders and that animal protection is not the monopoly of self-called "district attorneys" of the animal loving world.

We strongly resist these attacks and refuse to limit our role to being "dog-catchers" in order to be included in the list of "healthy" animal welfare groups. We will continue to care for the animals that are hungry, that get poisoned and that are abandoned.

We will no longer tolerate anymore "sensationalism" through the press which wrongly accuses us and therefore abuses the fundamental constitutional rights of our members. Our members make tireless efforts to educate our society about animal welfare. We take care of animals for years and spend substantial amounts of our own money to home them - rushing to airports - putting up with all manner of obstacles in efforts to home them with loving families.

Finally, in order to avoid any misunderstanding, it is our duty to clarify that we have no relation whatsoever with the "Coalition of Animal Welfare Groups of Greece". We were never members of that Coalition; consequently we are not represented by it through its spokespeople in any manner."

This press release is endorsed by:

The Greek Animal Welfare Fund (GAWF).
Welfare for Animals Global (WAG)
Pan-Cretan Group for the Protection of Animals "Noah's Ark".
Cretan Animal Welfare Group.

Greek Animal Rescue (GAR)
Protection of stray animals of Pylaea, Thessaloniki.
Small Noa's Arck.
Scan Skopelos.
Friends of Animals of Rethymnon.
Achaian Group for the Care of animals.
Animals Care.
Animal welfare group of St. Nicholas, Crete.
Friends of Animals, St. Theodores, Korinth.
Together We Can.
K.A.Z
Animal Peace, Chalkidiki.
Animal welfare Mountaineering Ecological Association of Chalkidiki ARGOS, Katerini.
THE ARK of Corfu.
Care Corfu Animal Rescue Enterprise.
Animal concerning Team.
The Eagle.
Lefkas Animal Welfare Society" (LAWS).
Kefalonia Animal Trust (KATs).
Association of Animal Lovers of Kifissia, for Animal Rights and Protection.
Animal Care of Samos.
Stray Animal Shelter of Markopoulo.
Animal Respect of Aegina.
Animal welfare Association of Helioupolis.

Story continued >

Next ... Click here for Part 2 - Analysis - Pre-Olympic Jitters >

 

Pride, Poison and Prejudice around the Parthenon MENU

you are here> Part 1 - Main Story
Part 2 - Analysis - Pre-Olympic Jitters
Part 3 - Backgrounds of Greece and other countries cited as cruel to animals
Photo Page - caution contains upsetting images


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