News Item | PAWS Chicago

Project Greece

by Tom Hay Bauer | Jul 06, 2016

PAWS Chicago’s No Kill Model Goes Transatlantic

During the month of March, the Greek island of Amorgos is a sleepy place. Most of the resorts and guest accommodations are small, family-run operations, and the owners are just starting to get things ready for the summer tourist season ahead. The cats are sleepy too—thousands of them—basking in the warm spring sun and forgetting about the cooler winter weather that just departed.

Unfortunately, spring is also the harbinger of kitten season. While stray cats in Greece appear to tourists to have an idyllic life, reality is another matter. With a never-ending cycle of litter after litter being born and winter without tourism and their ready supply of food, felines on the island face starvation. And there are some locals who despise stray pets and treat them like rodents, using force, or sometimes even poison, to deal with the overpopulation.

Animal Zone International (AZI) was founded in 2007 by New York City-based Paola Mieli, a tourist who fell in love with Amorgos and returned annually with her husband, on the condition that they did something about the terrible condition of animals on the island, particularly stray cats. AZI has brought veterinarians to the island to sterilize cats and has controlled the population on the port side of the island. But on the other side of the island, overpopulation was still rampant. She reached out to PAWS Chicago for help, hearing that the organization was founded after a Chicago family found a stray dog, Pippen, in Greece.

With a robust Trap-Neuter-Return program, primarily run by volunteers, Mieli knew that AZI could learn the best practices in how to build a volunteer base and work with populations of stray cats from the PAWS Chicago team. With funding from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the Paula and Peter Fasseas Foundation, a group of volunteers and two PAWS Chicago community outreach managers journeyed to Amorgos for the Aeigiali Sterilization Project, a coordinated approach designed to spay and neuter as many of the feral and stray cats living near the village of Aegiali as possible before kitten season.

Through the project, 193 cats were spayed or neutered in one week. Incredibly, 86 of the 94 female cats were pregnant. PAWS Chicago Assistant Director of Community Outreach Laurie Maxwell says of the trip: “With no veterinary options on the island, this group brought in two vets from Athens and transformed an old slaughterhouse into a spay/neuter clinic right in our target area. Trappers were climbing steep stairs into remote villages, and waiting patiently outside town dumpsters for cats while the clinic team prepped, cleaned and sterilized all of the cats.”

AZI offered the expertise of the visiting professionals from PAWS to help train and educate local individuals in the handling and humane care of stray animals so that the TNR effort can continue after they leave. Animal welfare professionals and veterinarians from other islands in the Cyclades and throughout Greece were invited to observe and learn the methods employed on Amorgos.

“Animal Zone International offered this opportunity to educate and promote the humane, sustainable practice of sterilization, as well as best practices with regard to handling and veterinary care,” said AZI Program Coordinator, Litsa Passari. “It is the intention of AZI to continue to make Amorgos a model for the appropriate management of its environment and its animal population and to maintain a balance between commerce, consideration and compassion.”

Following the spay/neuter project, AZI and the local Animal Welfare Society of Amorgos conducted visits to all elementary schools and kindergartens to talk to students about the value of animal protection and health, and its impact on the community of Amorgos.

“The PAWS team worked without a break, from morning till night. They knew exactly what to do and they had the knowledge to handle any situation,” says Passari. “We said goodbye to the team with tears in our eyes. Tears of gratitude and pride that we worked with them.”

It turns out that three cats of Amorgos also said goodbye and made the trek to the United States, alongside their new-found human friends, just as the original Pippen made the journey from the Greek island of Crete to his new Chicago home years ago. The Chicago team immediately named the cats Litsa, Anastasia and Giorgos in honor of the three AZI staff who served as hosts, translators, guides and friends during the week on Amorgos. One of the cats, Litsa, who is blind and required eye surgery through PAWS, has already been adopted. Most importantly, many thousands of kittens will not be born on Amorgos thanks to the work of the Chicago and AZI team. 

To volunteer or donate for Project Greece, please call 773.475.3302.