Before Claire Lloyd moved to Greece she had little time for animals. She admits lived in a whiter than white environment. She dressed in white. Her floors, walls and even furniture were white. She underwent a seismic shift when she moved to the island of Lesvos.
Here's her story.
As I write this there are three cats inside the house. My special one, Sweetie, who is queen of the house; Mikraki, a small ginger cat, and Grey Bear, a cantankerous old tom with three legs. In the garden are the dogs. Nellie is asleep in her basket and Hector on the welcome mat. Outside the gate a handsome, high-spirited young male dog has just appeared, probably dumped by a passerby. Although there is no sign on our door saying ‘Critters with any issues – abandonment to starvation – welcome’ our home has become a refuge, and our days are filled with feeding, medicating, playing with and rescuing them.
It is impossible to ignore their plight. Greek people don’t view dogs as pets on the whole, but as working dogs, good for guarding and herding, otherwise they are viewed as an expensive indulgence. Neutering their dogs is not an option as few have enough money to spend on such things. The end result is a slew of unwanted litters, most of which die from lack of food, disease or poison.
My partner Matthew and I have been doing our best over the last 7 years to care for and re-home as many dogs as possible. Most have been re-homed in the UK and Europe and two have gone all the way to Chicago.
Having watched them recover, get stronger and begin to play and romp, it can be very emotional saying goodbye, I sob a lot, but know they are going to loving homes where they will be happy. I am thrilled when people send me pictures and mini films of the dogs in their new homes. Recently at my London book launch for My Greek Island Home, a group of rescued dogs came to help us celebrate. It was a joy to see them again.
One of my Greek friends who rescues dogs and has 25 in her care told me that it was important to harden our hearts otherwise they would be broken. It’s very tough not to be able to help every single one but we do our best.
We are lucky to have generous friends, Nikki Tibbles and her charity the Dog House is one such staunch supporter, and this has helped us find good homes for our rescued dogs.
There are also other animals who befriend us. My newest animal friend is a donkey whom I meet on my morning walks. When he sees me, he lets out an enormous bray, knowing that I have apples and carrots for him. I love the sound his chomping makes as it reverberates through his big box head. Whilst I caress Donkey’s long, soft, furry ears, the dogs sniff around in the field. Muttley, a dog that walks with us takes the end of the long rope Donkey is tethered to between his teeth and shakes his head from side to side, growling under his breath. This activity keeps him amused and stops him from bothering us.
One morning I came around a bend in the road and found Donkey wandering free. He let out the most enthusiastic bray to date and also curled his lips, revealing a full set of teeth – an extra-special donkey smile. I felt so privileged. Then he came running towards me like a long-lost friend. I gave him an affectionate pat and moved on. But Donkey wasn’t having any of it. He picked up speed whenever we did, at times breaking into a trot. He wanted to be part of the crew and I had no objection.
To my relief he stopped short of the village, as I didn’t want anyone to think I had encouraged him or worse still, untied him. His owner is a village friend’s brother, Stratis. I couldn’t find him, so I headed to his mother’s. The front room of her house has become the village barbershop. Inside I could see Stratis giving someone a shave. It was an interesting challenge trying to explain my situation without knowing the Greek word for donkey. I was clutching at straws when I pulled out my phone and showed him the film of Donkey following me back to the village. Stratis was delighted. I cannot imagine what he thinks of me after that episode; I’m not even sure he understood why I was showing him. Perhaps he just sees an insane Australian walking through life with no end of animals following her. Not far from the truth.
There is never a dull moment. We delight in village life which has welcomed us so whole heartedly, and in between visits from friends, animal emergencies and rescues we squeeze in our work.
We get enormous pleasure from rescuing and looking after the dogs, but it is hard work and costly. So Matthew, who is an artist, has designed a t shirt which we are selling to raise money for the dogs. You can purchase these online from usmarstudio.bigcartel.com. I hope we will be able to help more animals through ideas such as this and help pay for neutering programmes in the future.