I will never forget the first time I walked into a ‘rescue centre’ in Cyprus; the particular one I’d visited on this day was inside a huge square warehouse in the middle of Cypriot wasteland. The first thing that struck me as I walked in from the blazing sun was the noise, the noise of 200 dogs barking, screeching and howling in unison. 200 dogs in one building, all desperate for attention, love and freedom. I’ve been involved in animal rescue for as long as I can remember and not once had I been that overwhelmed, felt that level of despair at how truly awful this island’s dog situation was. I stood in the middle of this ‘centre’ and walked slowly in a circle seeing that the entire perimeter consisted of cage after cage, some with up to 8 dogs inside and some dogs had been here for more than 5 years, my heart broke.
This same week, my first trip into the Cypriot rescue world, I witnessed dead dogs at the side of the road. I visited valleys with 300 or more dogs, chained, tied up or behind a barrier, fighting to get to shared food bowls under direct sunlight with no shade. The scary thing is, these places I describe are actually some of the better facilities - places where volunteers devote all of their time to these dogs but with the sheer number and lack of funds, conditions are less than ideal.
I met rescuers who had turned their own homes into rescue shelters in desperation to save life after life and not to shoulder the weight of dead dogs on their conscience. I saw a municipality pound with no water, no food, rat faeces and sick dogs left to die. These pounds would accumulate dogs until ‘the man’ was sent to kill them to make more room. A place where ‘hunters’ or worse would break in and steal dogs to do what they like with. Some dogs were so terrified they were frozen in place, others were visibly wasting away and one was so ill she kept choking on her own tongue - I had to leave her there.
I had visited rescue centres in the UK as a volunteer and as an adopter. Although seeing the many homeless dogs made me extremely sad, I was at least relieved that these dogs were now safe, well cared for and had a chance at a promising future. I thought I was prepared for the rescue world abroad but I was not, how could I be? Here in the UK we are so lucky to be a nation of dog lovers, so very lucky to have organisations like the RSPCA, Dogs Trust, Battersea, Blue Cross and all of the others; all funded by a huge number of the public. Cyprus does not have any of this, they have desperate animal lovers, working tirelessly to stop an endlessly frantic stray situation in a country where the majority of the population just does not care. How often do you see a stray dog in the UK? In Cyprus it is normal, or perhaps it is better to say it is unusual not to find one. Dogs end up in the pound weekly, 1 dog is rehomed and 3 dogs take its place. In Cyprus, there is an estimated 170,000 stray dogs removed from the streets each year. Contrastingly, in the UK, it is estimated that 47,000 dogs are dumped in council pounds per year.
Since my first visit in 2015 I have made it my mission to help in any way that I can; I of course continue to help UK rescues, having 3 UK rescue dogs myself, but in my experience they either do not want my help or they simply do not need it the same way as my Cypriot rescue contacts do. Each year since 2015, Abigail Tull (https://www.facebook.com/PAWSitivelyPetsService/) who introduced me to the world of Cyprus dog rescue, and I, fly out to Limassol or Nicosia in Cyprus. We help hands on with vet trips, dog rescue missions, dog walking, cage cleaning, dog promotions, behavioural assessments and anything else that may be required. We tirelessly fundraise each year in order to be able to take funds with us to help cover essential vet care, medication and food or we collect essentials such as collars, leads and coats to take with us.
It’s a harrowing experience every time we visit the pound and get hands on with the stray dogs, but it’s also extremely rewarding, each time we fall in love with dogs all over again. Dogs that have seen the worst of the human race but still wag their tails when I speak to them, still jump onto our laps as soon as I open their cages and jump to lick my face to show me how much love they have to give. We cannot imagine a year where we don’t visit Cyprus, the volunteers have become another family to us and welcome us back each year as though we have come home.
The rest of the year Abi and I do our best to help from the UK. Our biggest achievement is the annual calendar we organise and design to raise vital funds for the dogs, the calendar features as many of our adopted dogs as possible! We also help by devoting our spare time to running the SPDC website, responding to any enquiries from the public and coordinating adoptions. We offer around the clock support and full rescue back up even after the dogs are happily homed. It is time consuming work but I would not have it any other way.
As well as giving you an insight into the world of Cyprus rescue, I also wanted to write this blog to raise awareness of a situation that you might have not be aware of in a country usually known as a holiday paradise. To highlight a charity that deserves more recognition and to encourage people to consider opening their home to a rescue dog or to donate to a dog rescue or spay and neuter charity and to also give you some tips on bringing a rescue dog home, where ever they are from.
If you’d like to visit the SPDC website here is the link: https://spdc.org.uk/donate/
Bringing a rescue dog home
Here are some tips that might help:
Be patient! When your rescue dog first arrives to you they will likely feel quite stressed, lots has changed in their short lives and moving into a new home is a big day for them. When you first meet, even though you might be in love already, to your dog you are a stranger and some dogs may have negative past experiences with people. Be slow, be calm and be supportive. The bond will form at it's own pace, rushing it will only slow it down.
Give your rescue dog space so that they have the choice to interact with people, other dogs and their environment. Give them time to discover information about all of these in a calm and relaxed state of mind.
The best way to do both of the above is to ready a safe haven. This can be a crate or bed in a quiet area of the house where they can retreat to have quiet time whenever they like. The safe haven is comfy and warm, it has nice toys and treats happen here but they are never disturbed or handled when here. They have space away from you, other dogs and children when in their safe haven and happily take them-self to this area. The product Adaptil can be used to make safe havens more effective for your dog.
Do not expect perfection! It is likely that your dog is not fully trained, they may not even be toilet trained. Lower your expectations and prepare for the worst in order to set you both up for success rather than failure. I highly recommend contacting a local reward-based trainer/behaviourist in the early days or even beforehand to discuss your dog and what more you can do to help. You can also contact me for a phone call (follow up email) and hand outs to help be prepared or deal with issues that may arise.
Thank you for reading and happy rescuing!