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New Greek Pet Law Meets Toughest Opposition Yet

Greek Pet Law
The legendary sight and scent hunter Kritikos Lagonikos, Europe’s oldest dog breed. Credit: Phil Butler

The new Greek pet law, proposed by the government, has met with strong opposition by pet owners hunters, and outdoorsmen from all over Crete who gathered on Sunday to wage a protest against the controversial bill  They say that the legislation forces owners to sterilize their pets.

By Phil Butler

Recent demonstrations, which took place in Heraklion, Chania, and Agios Nikolaos, were held in front of key government centers to contest the Draconian sterilization agenda that the proposed Greek law would enact.

Organized by the Cretan Hound Club of Greece and hunters’ clubs all across Greece, the protests took place as a reaction to new pet legislation being drafted by the Ministry of the Interior and activist groups.

The “Argos” bill, named for the fabled canine companion of the Greek hero Odysseus, addresses many animal cruelties and stray animal problems. However, the controversial proposed law introduces unprecedented measures that have animal owners and breed enthusiasts up in arms.

This Greek new pet law has at its core new rules that would force pet owners to sterilize their animals or face stiff fines, pet confiscation — or even prison time. The “Argos” legislation does, admittedly, contain long overdue rules, regulations, and organizational strategies to address animal welfare.

Still, those opposed say mandatory sterilization is an affront to the rights of pets and their owners’ rights. And where the rare and legendary Cretan Hound (Kritikos Lagonikos) is concerned, owners say at least two rules in the new law could drive the breed to extinction.

Proponents of the new legislation contend that the mandatory sterilization articles of “Argos” must be enacted, alongside rules that would force the Cretan dog enthusiasts to alter centuries of breeding practices.

The unique Cretan Hound — the oldest dog breed in Europe — has been bred essentially unchanged for more than 5,000 years by hunters and dog lovers specific to the island. The breed, virtually unknown outside Crete, is unchallenged as a hare hunter, possessing unique capabilities and a personality that makes the hound a prize as both a companion and a hunter.

Greek Pet Law
A speaker addresses the protest in Crete. Credit: Phil Butler

The President of the Cretan Hound Club of Greece, Nikos Anetakis, had this to say about the thesis of the new law:

“If the ancient dogs who were the ancestors of Kritikos Lagonikos had been eunuchs, then these magnificent companions we have today would not exist. Now, we are being isolated as hunters and even dog owners, but we are also being singled out as citizens and as human beings. This is the basis of our complaint.”

Pet law would force dog and cat owners to neuter their animals

Anetakis told the protestors standing in Eleftherias Square before the offices of the government of the Region of Crete that they must stand up and fight for the rights of anyone to own and breed their pets, regardless of economic or political status. The Cretan bade his comrades protect these rights for the simple worker and the Prime Minister of Greece himself.

Greek Pet Law
The President of the Cretan Hound Club of Greece, Nikos Anetakis, speaks to approximately 300 protesters. Credit: Phil Butler

The main problem these people have with the new law is that dog and cat owners would be forced to neuter or spay their animals within a specific timeframe and under certain guidelines.

For those who have perpetuated the Cretan Hound and other rare Greek breeds, the interference with a tradition that has been a success since before writing was invented is onerous. And the new rules about demanding that all breeders jump through sometimes insurmountable technical hoops to raise litters of puppies threatens these endangered breeds as well.

The Cretan Hound issue is a particular case, but all pet owners and breeding enthusiasts will be affected. The backlash has had some positive effect on the Ministry of the Interior, which set up an open forum for comments and suggestions before the bill is passed.

In particular, Article 5 of the new law has received thousands of comments in the last few days, ninety percent of which are a resounding “no” on mandatory sterilization. Those commenting question the humanity of this part of the bill and the constitutionality of such restrictive laws.

Is the Greek pet law unconstitutional?

“Pelagia,” one of the over 6,500 people commenting at the ministry website on the Greek Pet Law has this to offer:

“NO to mandatory ‘horizontal sterilization’ of all companion dogs. This unconstitutional and medically and morally unacceptable. We just show respect for the rights of dogs and responsible owners!!! We support the Kennel Club of Greece (KOE) position for the exception of Pure-bred Dogs with Pedigree FCI and the indigenous Greek Breeds of Dogs.”

However, even in the face of overwhelming opposition, the bill’s authors are unyielding in their insistence on the sterilization aspect of this new law. From a realistic standpoint, there is no evidence forced sterilization has any positive impact on either stray population or animal health. The American Kennel Club and most veterinarians are in stark opposition to such spay and neuter laws. I am told that the Panhellenic Veterinary Association will go on strike on May 20th to show solidarity against these aspects of the new law.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends elective sterilization in some cases, but the doctors also say each breed and situation is unique. This is why the AVMA and many other organizations are against laws to enforce mandatory spaying and neutering. In general, the entire world is against regulations like the one the Greek prime minister, his Interior Ministry, and the Panhellenic Animal Welfare and Environmental Federation (PVRC) are forcing.

Natassa Bombolaki, the head of the PVRC, makes no bones about being anti-hunting, pro-vegan, nor does she hide her organization’s disdain for any official who holds other opinions. Her personal Facebook timeline is full of declamatory comments aimed at Chania officials and others. My point here is that this is not a clean fight, and this should be obvious to Greece’s leadership, which it reflects upon negatively by proxy.

This takes us forward to a final point, the stoic nature of policy agents overall. Since this bill came into the limelight, the authors have not backed up one millimeter. No outcry, no plea to examine the legal components of the law — even the most heartfelt emotional or cultural arguments — seem to have zero effect. In my last conversation with Bombolaki and her associates, her organization made it crystal clear they would not concede even with the potential endangerment of the indigenous breeds at stake.

Likewise, the Deputy Minister of the Interior, Stelios Petsas appears unmoved by these appeals as well. This makes me wonder what stands behind such a steadfast and immovable position?

Is the government that oblivious to the will of its people? Will Greece venture into the dark unknown of governance with such unbending misguidance?

On May 20, 2021, the open forum on this issue will end. I guess the people will learn the will of the government after this. We can only hope and pray their decision does not destroy the reality of the hardworking and dedicated men and women I stood alongside on Sunday in Heraklio.

Phil Butler, who is based in Crete, is the editor of Argophilia Travel News

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