Charity Insights – CARAT

We are delighted and so grateful that CARAT has been chosen as one of the supported charities for 2019 by Brown’s Natural Pet Store. It’s very flattering that so many people voted for us, and a great privilege to be supported by such a great local business with a first-class reputation. Thank you all so very much! CARAT is headed by myself, Linda (known as Titch) Manley-Bird and my partner Paul Loader, supported by Clare McIvor and Jean Frazer. Paul and I undertake the day to day running of the charity, while Clare is our fundraiser extraordinaire!

As an introduction to who we are and what we do, perhaps it would be a good idea to answer the question we hear most often – why Greek animals when there are so many animals in the UK already that need rescuing? For us, the suffering of one animal is as important as the next, no matter which country it is born in. Here in the UK we are lucky in that we have such a wonderful infrastructure of animal welfare societies and shelters, along with strong animal welfare laws which are enforced against people who commit crimes against animals. Sadly, in Greece, although there are laws against animal abuse they are rarely enforced and people who inflict the most horrendous cruelty on animals know they do so with very little chance of ever being held to account.

Unwanted animals are simply abandoned to the street in their hundreds of thousands every year in Greece. It is seen as entirely normal to throw unwanted new-born puppies and kittens into the roadside bins, or to wait until the puppies and kittens are weaned and then to dump them beside a road or on a mountain to fend for themselves. If your dog is old or gets sick, drive it to another village and throw it from the car. The estimates of the number of stray dogs in Greece range from a conservative 4 million to a shocking 10 million…..and there are even more stray cats whose numbers are impossible to count. Those that survive abandonment will then go on to breed because there is not a culture of sterilisation for animals in Greece, and when the numbers in an area grow too large then poison will be laid to ‘clean the streets’. The poisons used range from agricultural pesticides to weedkiller, to ground glass mixed into meat; but all of them lead to an agonising and often prolonged death. Stray dogs and cats are seen as vermin and are routinely poisoned, hung, burned, shot and run over, with very few friends to help them. Animal welfare volunteers are threatened and abused on a daily basis for trying to help those poor animals struggling to survive on the street, such is the animosity felt by so many Greeks towards the strays.

After much of my life being spent working with horses the plight of the often overworked and underfed donkeys and mules of Greece is also very dear to my heart. These passive and gentle creatures are still used as beasts of burden and for transport throughout Greece and many suffer long years of abuse and neglect before being tied up on a mountain in the sun with no food or water and left to die when they are too old or too lame to be of any more use, a terrible end for an animal whose only crime was to serve its master for its whole life.
Paul and I both have very different stories of how we came to be helping Greek animals which you might be interested to hear as our way of explaining how we got to where we are today…..

Titch’s story
For me, the realisation of the sad plight of Greek stray animals came about on a holiday to Corfu with my young son some 20 years ago. As soon as we arrived in our resort I began to notice the numbers of dogs that were hanging around the beach and the shops – and the more I saw the more there seemed to be. I couldn’t help but be shocked at their condition either, many were very thin and clearly sick. One little blonde scruff hung around our apartment and I began to feed her every day, wormed her and treated her for the thousands of ticks all over her. She followed us everywhere we went and I called her Kali, ‘Good’ in Greek. As the end of my holiday approached I just didn’t know what to do, how could I go and leave her behind with no-one to care for her? I asked everyone if they knew how I could rescue her, if there was a shelter on the island that could help me but no-one was interested, they shrugged their shoulders and seemed to think I was strange for worrying about a dirty stray dog. When I left I gave a sympathetic hotel receptionist a huge pile of dog food and she promised she would feed Kali for me every day.

After I returned to the UK I was determined to get Kali home with me. I researched all I could about the stray dogs and cats in Greece and was horrified with everything I found out – the numbers, the methods of ‘control’, the fate that awaited them. I’d had no idea of all that went on. I contacted Greek Animal Rescue, where I was put into contact with Diane, who had also brought a stray from Corfu. Diane told me about the quarantine procedure for importing a stray dog – this was before the Pet Passport Scheme was in existence – and put me in contact with the vet on the island. The vet was prepared to drive to the resort and collect Kali if the receptionist would catch her and keep her for him. I booked the quarantine kennel place for her. I researched flights and found the airlines which could fly her into the UK. Everything was planned…but on the day that the vet was due to pick her up the receptionist called me to tell me for the first time ever Kali did not come for her food.

For a week I worried and fretted and called the receptionist daily but Kali did not come. I was about to give up hope when suddenly Kali came back……but now she was feeding puppies. So I had a terrible dilemma. If I took her now then the puppies would die. If I left her then every day she was on the street she risked poisoning or being run over. But I couldn’t take her from her pups knowing that it would mean their certain death and as the receptionist had promised to continue feeding her I had to take the risk. Kali came back every day for her food but the receptionist reported that she was becoming very thin. A friend was travelling to Corfu on holiday so he went to look for Kali and her puppies for me. For three days he followed Kali after she had eaten but her route took her through a wire fence into wasteland and by the time he had walked round to get into the area she had disappeared. He combed the entire area but could not find any trace of her.
I immediately booked another flight to Corfu, determined now to find Kali and her puppies and somehow I would rescue them all. But during the two weeks between then and my flight Kali stopped coming to be fed.

When I flew back to Corfu she hadn’t been seen for over a week. For a week I searched, I called, I covered every inch of the area she was last seen but there was no trace, no sign of her. She was gone, and I can only assume that she didn’t make it. I had let her down. I was her only hope and I failed her.
Some time soon after, Diane called me and asked if I might be interested in fostering or adopting a Greek dog that had come from near Athens. She was currently fostering the dog so she brought him down so that I could meet him. That dog was Zorba who had been sent from Markopoulo shelter near Athens. Zorba came on trial and very quickly I decided that he would stay, so when I adopted him Diane asked if I would email some photos of and an update to the man who was taking care of the dogs at the shelter, an English volunteer called Paul. So I did, and we got chatting by email…and when he next came back to the UK he came to visit Zorba….and the rest is history!!
The Markopoulo shelter where Paul was volunteering was closing down and there were just over 100 resident dogs needing homes. We managed to find new families for 57 of those dogs in the UK, with the others going to homes in Holland and Germany. Once the shelter closed for good Paul came to live with me permanently – by then our furry family had grown to 6 dogs as every time he came back he seemed to bring me another one!

In the years since we have devoted every spare minute of our lives to helping Greek animals as much as we can, by rehoming, fostering, fundraising, travelling out to Greece to escort dogs to new homes, organising sterilising campaigns with our local vets who came to Greece free of charge to neuter strays; anything we could do to help the animals and the wonderful animal rescuers who work so hard in often impossible conditions in Greece. When the opportunity came to be able to assume the running of CARAT when its founder Gwen decided it was finally time to enjoy some retirement (at the age of 95!) we were delighted to grab the offer with both hands! So now, as a UK registered charity with a wonderful and loyal supporter base, we can offer even more practical help to even more people and even more animals. We would both like to extend our eternal gratitude to Gwen for the chance she gave us and the trust she put into us to carry her dream forward into the future and we hope we make her proud.
For me, every animal saved, every animal given their chance in life, every unwanted birth prevented, every animal who gets to experience safety, love and care is my tribute, and my apology to Kali. If I knew then what I know now, if I had the contacts then that I have now she would have been saved, she need never have died. All I can do in her memory is to make sure that as many as possible get the chance she didn’t get and by working towards sterilising as many strays as we can I also hope we can prevent future generations of unwanted and unloved animals being born to a short life of suffering…and by educating people perhaps one day the outlook for animals in Greece will not be so bleak.
Until that day we have a lot of work to do……..

Paul’s story
After the break up of my marriage I was suddenly at a turning point in my life. I needed to find a new direction, I was stuck in a dead end job and I didn’t know where my future would take me. All I knew was that I wanted to work with animals.
Cruising the internet, I found an advertisement for a volunteer needed to work with dogs and cats at a shelter in Greece. Without thinking twice I took the post and found myself in a small village an hour’s drive from Athens, with 120 dogs and dozens of cats to care for. It was a steep learning curve! On my first day I managed to let a whole pen of dogs escape into the Greek countryside, racing off in glee at their new-found freedom! I ran after them but they were unstoppable, and had to go to Niko, the founder of the shelter, in a total panic that I had lost a dozen dogs and they had all disappeared. Niko shrugged his shoulders and smiled and said not to worry, they would be back. I couldn’t bear to leave them to run free and risk being run over or poisoned, so I went out searching for them.

As I found the first one I realised I was such a novice I hadn’t even taken any leads with me, so I held the dog’s collar tight as I hunted around and found a long length of electrical flex. I tied the dog to the flex and set off to find another – as I found each one I tied them onto the length of flex and finally, several hours later I arrived back at the shelter with a string of a dozen dogs trotting along in front of me like a team of huskies! I put them all back into their pen and as soon as I’d untied them all a huge fight broke out between them; clearly they were less thrilled about being caught than I was to catch them! I received a big bite on my leg while separating them all – my punishment for letting them all loose in the first place no doubt! It was the first of almost daily exploits that were to keep me on my toes and I loved spending all my waking hours with the dogs, feeding, cleaning, grooming, playing. They became my whole life.

The animals taught me so much and I learnt so much more about myself in my time there. The whole year was a rollercoaster of emotion – the highs of bringing round a terrified dog and being able to touch it for the first time or bringing an animal back from the brink of death or sending an animal off to its new life in a loving family….and the lows like seeing the abuse, the suffering and the neglect that so many innocent souls had to go through.
The memory of my favourite dog, BooBoo, eating poison while out walking with me and running back to the shelter with him in my arms, frantically trying to save his life as he writhed in agony but being too late. BooBoo will be with me forever, but not in the way I would have chosen.
As I became more experienced at managing the dogs Niko left me to manage with the shelter more and more so that he could take care of the relentless cries for help he got all day every day – dogs and cats injured in traffic accidents, poisonings, tied with wire, a non-stop procession of sick and injured animals demanding his help because there was simply no-one else.

After I had been at the shelter a little while I sent out the first dogs to travel under the new Pet Passport Scheme. One was a big yellow dog who didn’t have a home to go to but was travelling along because there was a spare space for one lucky dog to go to foster. Little did I know that that big yellow goofball would end up rehomed with Titch, and that through him we would end up together. But it was down to Zorba that Titch and I first met and here we are 14 years and a LOT of dogs later!

After 21 years of rescuing stray dogs and cats in Greece Niko was finally burnt out, financially, emotionally and physically exhausted. He decided that the shelter must close. By now I loved every one of the shelter residents as my own and I swore to them that I would make it my only goal in life to make sure that each and every one of them got out alive, that they all got the loving home and family that they deserved. I’m happy to say that with a lot of hard work between Greek Animal Rescue, Dutch volunteers, Titch and myself eventually all the dogs left Markopoulo shelter for new homes in 2000 and 2001. I escorted 57 back to the UK, the last consignment being filmed by the TV programme Pet Rescue.

With the shelter closed I settled down with Titch and our 6 dogs, 5 from the Markopoulo shelter. Now the ways I could help the strays changed from practical hands-on shelter work to fundraising. I began to run ever-increasing distances to raise money for our friends who ran shelters in Greece, marathons, ultra-marathons, skydiving, shaving off my prized hair which had been long since my early teens, even waxing my legs! Titch and I drove repeatedly back and forth to Greece with donations of food, beds and blankets we had collected and returned with 15 dogs at a time who had been found new homes.
For the last 20 years we have made the strays of Greece our lives and would do anything to help them, and have been lucky enough to build up a wonderful small army of supporters and helpers who have been behind us in all that we do.

When we were offered the opportunity to continue Gwen’s great work with CARAT it was simply too good to resist. We are determined that CARAT will continue to grow and that more and more animals will be helped as a result, but also that we remain small enough that we stay as a volunteer-run charity which is open and fully accountable.

Our heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who has been so supportive and who have believed in us and backed us in our efforts to help as many animals as we can…..without our friends we are nothing and we will never be able to tell you how much we appreciate every one of you.
CARAT currently supports around 20 small animal welfare societies and shelters at the grass roots of rescue work in Greece – sometimes with only one person caring for the animals’ needs. Their work is often undervalued and they desperately need help as they don’t have time to canvass for funds or to run websites to find supporters. The ways in which we provide support to them includes:

• funding the sterilising of strays either individually or through campaigns with
volunteer vets
• encouraging neutering of owned animals – whose unwanted litters add to the endemic
stray problem
• rescuing abandoned or unwanted donkeys – saving them from the “meatmen” who
sell donkeys for slaughter in Italy
• transporting these donkeys (and sometimes mules and horses) to a new happy retirement in
the UK or to our own supported donkey shelter in Crete
• supplying trapping and surgery equipment and veterinary medications.
• financing the re-homing of rescued animals from Greece to other EU countries
• helping with building costs of stables, kennel blocks and clinics
• producing leaflets in Greek for educational programmes – on “Care of the Donkey”,
“The Benefits of Neutering Cats and Dogs” and “The Danger of leaving Dogs in
Hot Cars”