Sunday, May 20, 2012

Street dogs lost in the shadows of Greece, ancient land of dreams

Diamandi's last look at her home island, on deck of the departing ferry boat.

(Please see previous article about Kyllini and Diamandi.)

The sun’s glare off the sea hit my eyes, making me realize how hot the day had become, and that my foster dog Diamandi would roast in the car if I didn’t get back to her quickly.

I had stopped at a harbor taverna in the little port town of Kyllini in western Greece to ask if anyone could help the mange-infested street dog I’d just seen.

So far no takers.

“Could I leave you my contact information?” I asked the curly-haired young woman who seemed to be in charge of the taverna. “And may I have yours?  I have to leave now but— “

“There’s nothing we can do,” Curly Hair interrupted brusquely.

Her more sympathetic friend, another twenty-something, looked at me. “Can’t you take him with you?”

I pointed at Diamandi, who was panting inside the car a few meters away, while big trucks coming off the ferry boat raced past.  “That dog was in bad shape out on the streets too, just a few weeks ago. The reason I’m in a rush is that I have to get her to Athens and onto a flight to Denmark tomorrow, where she’ll be adopted by a loving family.”

“Fine. So take another dog too.” Curly Hair grinned smugly at her friend, proud of her own cleverness.

It is an unfortunate fact that if we really want to help animals, if we want to be their effective ambassadors, we often have to bite our tongues against the things we would like very much to say instead of the polite things we must force out of our mouths.

“I wish I could help him,” I said as gently as I could, “along with all the rest who need help. It hurts me that right now I can’t. I wish it were possible. But what is possible is that we can all share a little responsibility. We can work together and really help these animals, and help each other when we need it too.”

The sound of my own voice made me cringe. I knew I sounded like an idiotic Polly Anna. But it was worth it, because Curly Hair looked baffled, as if she had expected a completely different response.

Losing faith

“Could you put out food for him too?” I pressed. “And ask the other businesses and neighbors to be kind to him?  Meanwhile I’ll see if I can find a group or somebody to help.”

The sympathetic woman opened her mouth to reply, but seemed intimidated by her friend.

“Please,” I said. “He’s so miserable. He deserves at least some food and kindness. He’ll be grateful you for anything you can do. And so will I.”

I hurried back toward Diamandi. Another truck flew by, kicking a swirl of dust into my face.

Crossing the street, I heard Curly Hair call out, “Nobody helps around here. Nobody ever helps us.  There’s no hope.”  There was almost a plea in her voice.

I stopped. I knew what she meant. I had been hearing it everywhere. It wasn’t just about animals. It was about Greece, about people losing faith that the economy will ever improve, that there will ever be jobs again, that there will ever again be a sense of progress or even stability.

It’s hard to imagine losing confidence in a country that has survived 6,000 years of downward spirals along with all the spectacular upward ones, but there it was.

A land of dreams

Suddenly I wanted to take the dispirited young women—just girls, really, who were coming of age during a troubled time—take them and mange-riddled street orphan Kyllini and pile them all into the car along with Diamandi and me.

Together, we could figure it out, couldn’t we? Maybe the road to Athens would give us all renewed hope.

I wished at least that I could think of something inspirational to say in reply to Curly Hair’s forlorn plea, one she probably didn’t even realize she was making.

And I wished that I could see Kyllini again before I drove off, at least so as to feed him.

I knew I would dream about him. I knew I would dream about the two girls.

Greece is a land of age-old dreams now set in stone. It is a place built with surprising solidity on nothing but wishes that turned into treasures.

Just look up, almost anywhere you go in this country, and you’ll find a Parthenon, or a Temple of Poseidon, or a Byzantine castle—the ancient genius of wishes and dreams—somehow enduring earthquakes and fires and pollution, somehow outlasting invasions and dictatorships and wars, somehow still symbolizing all that Greece has always given and can continue giving to the world.

Diamandi, only a little dog lost among its shadows, was about to leave this legendary land, because for her there were few wishes or dreams left. Her only hope lay in emigration, as it had for countless Greeks, both human and canine, before her.

But behind her remain thousands of desperate animals and millions of dispirited people—animals and people who, even more solidly than the glorious monuments of the past, are the nation’s greatest treasures.

I turned to look at Curly Hair and her friend. 

“I’ll be back,” was all I could think of to say.

Because that was all I knew for sure.

For more about Kyllini, Diamandi, and other dogs and humans, please visit The Dozen Dog Diaries again soon.
Dear Reader, 
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