By Phil Butler
A new Greek draft law, aimed at bolstering the cause of animal welfare, may have a devastating impact on rare, historic dog breeds in Greece, such as the Cretan Hound.
The clouds over the city shifted. A sunbeam lasered through, casting a shimmering reflection off my dog Mojito’s ancient, all-knowing eyes.
Our Cretan Hound, the spitting image of the statue of an ancient dog on an Egyptian tomb, lives with us here in downtown Heraklion, Crete.
Soon, however, he may only be safe when surrounded by the rugged cliffs or high plateaus of the island.
If a new law being drafted in Athens is passed in its current form, the owners and caretakers of a legendary breed of Greek hunting dog known as “Kritikos Lagonikos” may be forced to retreat into the wilderness to save an icon of myths that are older than the Minoans.
“Argos” is the fabled dog of Greece’s famed hero Odysseus. In a bitter irony (Greek tragedy?) that is currently developing, it is also the name of a new pet law being drafted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Athens.
The legislation has a stated goal of addressing the horrendous stray animal problem in some parts of Greece.
It’s supposed to be focused on ghastly problems like animal trafficking, abandonment of animals, and grievous treatment by inhumane owners, etc. The law appears to alleviate some grievous inhumanity toward animals by enforcing the so-called “Five internationally-recognized freedoms” of animals.
These are: freedom from hunger and thirst, from unnecessary suffering and stress, from pain, injury, and disease, from fear and distress, and the freedom of normal expression and behavior.
However, like almost all legislation, there is a catch. Attached to this new law is a forced sterilization clause that has animal owners, hunters, veterinarians, and dog enthusiasts in Greece up in arms in opposition.
Authors of the documents say the forced sterilization aspect is crucial to creating a more “humane” Greek system of care for animal rights. But for those opposed to forced sterilization, the bill tears at the fringes of democratic principles.
Law impacts Greece’s Cretan Hound, Europe’s oldest dog breed
And in one particular case, that of Europe’s oldest dog breed, the Cretan Hound, the lawmakers seem to be ripping away at the fabric of who the Cretan people are. And with the Kritikos Lagonikos in focus, it’s easier to see the draconian nature of this sterilization regulation.
As dog breeds go, the fabled hunting dog Kritikos Lagonikos is beyond legendary.
These mythic hare hunters are the oldest of all European dog breeds, unrivaled for thousands of years for their capabilities.
They have literally been the benchmark for European hunting dogs since before Alexander the Great assimilated empires.
A rare combination of both a sight-and scent-oriented hound, these dogs have remained essentially unchanged for over 5,000 years.
Archaeologists have discovered images of them on artifacts older than any written history. And to the point, the breed has only survived this long because of the owners who protected their DNA through eons of time.
Greece — Belgian Style
The opposition to the “Argos” law sees it as a ham-handed attempt to revamp pet laws that is unnecessary since the previous law, if enforced properly, would have already alleviated many of the problems animal activists are concerned about.
I have read the previous law (4039/2012), and it mirrors similar laws in my own country of the United States. Since I know my own country’s various pet laws because I was a dog breeder there, I wanted to find a legal European precedent for this new Greek legislation.
As far as I could tell in a limited time, there is only one European case similar to the current Greek initiative. Belgium’s cat sterilization law is a telling clue as to where the new Greek ideas may have originated.
In 2020, Belgium made nationwide a law that applied mostly to Brussels, where the European Commission has its headquarters. This law came about because of an NGO lobby as well.
The Belgian law came about because of a big push by an activist group known as Gaia, which prescribed for the Belgians the exact remedies and strategies Greeks are writing into this new animal rights law.
One big problem opponents of the Greek law have is the fact that “Argos” moves accountability and authority from the Ministry of Rural Development to the Ministry of Interior. This euronews story from three years ago mentions Gaia’s Ann De Greef, and illustrates a telling coincidence:
“De Greef also successfully encouraged the Belgian government to make animal welfare policy a separate ministry from agriculture, which she said helped clear longstanding conflicts of interest and pave the way for sterilization.”
“Pave the way for sterilizations” — this dogma and lingo are pervasive if you research these NGOs and the various movements. This “leitmotif,” if you will, prompted me to contact experts closer to the front lines.
Here on Crete, the hunters and Kritikos Lagonikos owners rely on organizations like the Cretan Hound Association for information. To find out their take, I contacted the president of the association, Nikos Anetakis.
A hunter and one of the experts on the breed’s standard, Anetakis says the new law has a darker underpinning.
He says the motivations of the NGOs behind this law are anything but pure, and he suggests that PM Mitsotakis and other politicians are being manipulated into creating a whole new bureaucracy led by vested interests. He expressed his fears over the law with this:
“My fear is that people will stop registration of the dogs, and this will be a disaster for not only the club, the pedigrees, the worldwide recognition of the breed — but mostly for the breed’s future.”
He went on to explain how he thinks these NGOs are trying to remove the real animal experts from the equation, by cutting out the veterinarians who are central to current efforts to curb animal abuse.
Future of the Cretan Hound, other dog breeds in Greece under threat by proposed law
Previously I mentioned my Cretan Hound, Mojito. I did not mention that the dog was a gift to my family by another legend of the island of Crete, a man named Giannis Geneiatakis (Γιάννης Γενειατάκης).
Giannis is almost everyone’s authority on Kritikos Loganikos. When I asked him about this controversial new legislation, he made no bones about what the law might mean for Kritikos Lagonikos.
With fewer than 500 registered animals in Greece and worldwide, the dog breed is under duress if this law is passed. For centuries the only thing standing in the way of their extinction has been the hunters, outdoorsmen, and enthusiasts on Crete dedicated to their DNA, the traditions surrounding them, and the amazing companions these dogs are.
Readers may want to see Geneiatakis’ and other comments here, on Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ Facebook video about the subject.
The retired fireman, who now lives in Agios Nikolaos, tells me he believes Greece is being used as a guinea pig for a far broader effort to put it in place in other EU nations.
He says that if the law is passed, owners will eventually bend underneath the fines and regulations to sterilize their animals one by one, until the “experiment” is a success.
Giannis says this law amounts to genocide, and that the whole movement is another movement to “harmonize” Greece and other countries to a mold cast in Brussels. He says owners will eventually bend to the fines and government pressure, and that the “experiment” will move on to other EU nations.
Anetakis, Geneiatakis, and the Kritikos owners are not alone in their fight against the law. The Kennel Club of Greece is up in arms too.
The the General Secretary of the Kennel Club of Greece, Dimitrios Gouzounas, has been an outspoken opponent of the new law because of its implications for dog breeds in Greece.
He and other interested stakeholders have been in public meetings and with Deputy Minister of Interior Petsas and those responsible for the bill, trying desperately to iron out amicable legislation that will take all viewpoints into consideration.
But you can read on the official website of the Prime Minister of Greece that sterilization of dogs “is” the only way. Mitsotakis is quoted here from his recent photo/video op at a shelter/refuge:
“The refuge staff noted that complies with the provisions of the draft bill, which aims to solve multifaceted and chronic problems. In fact, he asked the Prime minister to insist, especially on the subject of neutering.”
A Domineering Democracy?
This “insistence” aspect will become much more clear in later on. However, it is important to understand the Cretan Hound groups have made dozens of suggestions to the parties pushing forward this new law, but I am told there has been little positive feedback.
In fact, most of the dog owners I speak to say there is a movement by some of the “Argos” people against the whole sport of hunting and the traditions it represents.
To find out where the authors of this law stand, I reached out to the President of the Panhellenic Animal Welfare and Environmental Federation (PVRC) Natassa Bombolaki (Νατασα Μπομπολάκη) for comment on the specific case of the Kritikos Lagonikos.
Bombolaki, whose Facebook profile picture features a big red sign reading “No Hunting,” is one of the driving forces behind this mandatory sterilization clause in the law. Since she was not comfortable communicating in English, the NGOs secretary Angela Nikolaou served as translator.
I only had two questions, which I felt would reveal a great deal. I will admit, both were loaded questions.
First, I asked if the authors of this law are willing to compromise on the forced sterilization aspect. Bombolaki’s answer was a definitive “no”.
My second question was whether or not the authors of this law are willing to give special consideration because of the unique situation of Kritikos Lagonikos. Again, the NGO head answered definitively “no”, there is to be no consideration.
To reiterate: “No!” there is no compromise. As I said, my questions were loaded, but on reading her answers, a nagging question began to eat at me.
Since the previous law made sense, and really only needed enforcement and revision, why didn’t PM Mitsotakis simply direct those responsible for animal welfare under the previous system to be more vigilant?
To discover why, I searched Bombolaki’s organization and found a disturbing press release where the NGO readily admitted a vow of secrecy over some provisions of this new law was part of the process.
The NGO also acknowledges that the shifting of competency to the Ministry of the Interior is an “important conquest by the animal rights movement.” Does this mean the hunters and dog owners are justified in their suspiciousness of the people drafting this law? I’ll leave such judgments to readers. All that remains for me is my final say.
“A good compromise is one where everybody makes a contribution”: Angela Merkel.
Κοίτα! Kritikos, Kritikos, Kriti!
Finally, as I look over the top of my computer monitor at the doorway of my office here in Heraklion, I see my companion Mojito sitting there, standing guard.
Our gift from the Minoan gods sits regally, ears perked like Anubis incarnate, serious eyes focused on observing even the birds flying overhead; a living legend with a curious Americanized name reminds me why I came here to live and die.
On Crete, you see, there are some things that should only change when the world finally ends. It’s a tragedy when humanity is uncompromising for the sake of power, instead of preserving our legacy.
I hope the reader, no matter which way he or she leans politically, will help these Cretans save this symbol of their heritage, these dogs the little children cry out for in the streets when Mojito and I go on walks. “Κοίτα! Kritikos, Kritikos, Kriti!”
Phil Butler is the editor of Argophilia Travel News.