On arrival at our hotel in Athens, I was surprised to see a large white dog with liver coloured splotches stretched out on the steps of the elegant Grande Bretagne. Now, I like dogs. As a kid we had a large, good natured Springer Spaniel we called Scamp. When I knew her Scamp was hardly a scamp. I remember Scamp as an amiable, gentle creature who lived life at a lazy amble and had no quarrel with anyone – hardly a scamp at all.
Scamp was a fixture in the small town in which we lived. She never went for walks on a lead. Instead, she wandered on her own, following a set route. It included stops at the local butcher, the shoe store, a gift store and who knows where else. At each stop she was gifted with a bone or dog cookies, pats and conversation. At the end of her day she would head home. At the main intersection in town a policewoman directed traffic. When Scamp showed up, she’d stop cars in all directions and wait till Scamp crossed, before allowing traffic to flow again. Everyone knew Scamp. They just didn’t know she lived with us.
According to one of our guides the dogs in Athens are like Scamp. They don’t live with anybody. They are part of the community. Everybody who lives or works in an area knows the dogs and takes part in their care. The government (not specified as to municipal or national) ensures the animals are healthy by providing vet service once a week. The weather facilitates the system, since rain is rare and the biting cold of winter is even rarer. The animals I met seemed to be tame and gentle, like the old fellow by the Grande Bretagne.
Having grown up with Scamp I had a successful model to draw on, but … Okay, I’m from North America, 21st century. Dogs wandering on the loose in my part of the world mean feral, not friendly. Though the guide insisted that the animals were perfectly happy, but I can’t help but wonder if that was just an excuse for ‘can’t be bothered’.
Our first meeting with cats on the wander was at dinner in the taverna in Athens on our first night. Seated, as we were, at a table against the back wall of the patio, I was very aware when a trio of cats popped over the wall. They slipped past us, keeping to the shadows. I suspected that they were the clean up crew, but they didn’t seem to be having much luck. I have to admit that when I couldn’t finish the enormous squid, I cut up what was left into small pieces and stealthy dropped them on the ground. The bits were gone in minutes. I felt guilty about feeding an animal in a public restaurant, but the cats were skinny and looked hungry. And at that point I hadn’t heard about the national health care system for community animals.
That was our first night. It didn’t take long for me to realize that cats roamed freely throughout the region and scrounged a living from unsuspecting tourists in restaurants everywhere. At one outdoor café in Rhodes the cats wandered between the tables and were fed by one patron after another. The waiters paid no attention to them as long as they scampered out of the aisles between the tables and didn’t get underfoot. At that same establishment there was a brief cat skirmish (paw slashing claws out, hissing and arched backs) for dominance. The victorious cat settled politely between our table and the one next. While he was focused on the patron at the other table, he took the time to shoot me the imperative cat stare, letting me know he was ready to accept donations.
I gave them. What can I say? I’m hopeless where cats are concerned.
We didn’t find cats only in eating establishments. They wandered wherever we happened to be – in ancient ruins and on city streets. The most amusing cat contact was at Ephesus. Cats were all over that ancient city, wandering through the ruins and the crowd, sunbathing on the broken statuary. Even though it was the off season, Ephesus was packed. The cats, however, seemed oblivious to the massive crowds. Unless someone attempted to touch them they stayed put and ignored the surging mass of people.
As we were leaving the site, we stopped at the public washrooms. There were cats around the building, of course, but in the men’s side Dave found two cats curled up in one of the sinks, sound asleep. Though it looks odd, a sink as a bed makes perfect sense for a cat. Ephesus was baking under a clear blue sky. The temperature had to be over 80 degrees. The sink appeared to be some sort of stone, so it would have been cooler than outside on the ground. The cats slept peacefully while around them tourists (male and female) gestured, giggled and took pictures. Definitely an amusing, upbeat memory to take from a beautiful historic site.