Blod was a quiet, friendly retriever who would follow perfectly to heel naturally. He followed us everywhere each time we visited our Greek friend Eleni. I had known him for almost a year. He was originally a stray from another area and was dumped as a puppy. He was castrated and then left on the streets in Eleni's village. She fed him on the streets, along with about 40 other strays, vaccinated him and microchipped him to her municipality. He took up residence just outside her gate, teaming up with a young, male lab called Crème.
Crème was only a year old when he was killed. He had been dumped as a puppy too. He was a fun-loving, cheeky boy who would always run ahead of us, diving off into the undergrowth to explore and then reappearing. Their third companion was a young sheepdog, Shirley. She had a lucky escape from the life she was born into. The shepherds live and work in the mountains, so there is less control over breeding, dumping and abuse, as there is no one to see it or report it. Shirley somehow found her way to the village and a less-harsh life. Her body language showed her lack of confidence that anyone would want to take notice of her or be kind to her.
With no one to report them, people were still carrying out these atrocities.
I have been helping Eleni Gerna with the strays she looks after for 14 years. My late husband was a vet and we would go over at least once a year and help as much as we could. Last year I felt able to go again, first with my sister and then for the last 3 visits with one of our volunteers. We spent many happy days with Blod, Crème and Shirley and had decided to adopt them. Our visit last week was to finalise the transport and sort out the paperwork. We were also planning to bring 3 blind dogs back for Blind Dog Rescue UK, who were funding their transport.
When Blod and Crème were poisoned most of the village were in shock. Eleni had been one of the key campaigners for a change in Greek law to protect all dogs from ill-treatment, but knew that in remote villages, with no one to report them, people were still carrying out these atrocities. She spends her life savings and pension on helping the stray dogs and cats: feeding, neutering and driving them miles to the nearest vet. She split her house into two apartments so that charity vets could stay there rent free in return for neutering the strays. She has had to put her house up for sale due to ill health and will be moving to the city to be nearer her family and the hospital. She knew that once she moved the poisoning would start again, so was determined to rehome all the strays before she left. She never dreamed the poisoning would start as soon as her house went on the market.
He died in our arms, in great pain, a few hundreds yards outside the village.
On the day the dogs were poisoned we had spent the morning with them on the beach. We had only been back for five minutes when Eleni noticed Crème crawling under her car. We searched around for Blod in vain before bundling Crème in the car to attempt the half hour drive to the nearest vets. He died in our arms, in great pain, a few hundred yards outside of the village. When we got back we found Blod. He had dragged himself under Eleni's gate. He was still alive, but died about a minute later. Shirley was in the street in a state of shock. I carried her into the garden where she curled into a ball in the corner.
A stray that looked like Shirley was found dead later in the day, down on the beach. He was an older sheep dog we had called Limpy because of his damaged leg. We contacted our friends Jim and Lena Leahy, who rescue strays in their town, to see if they would keep Shirley safe for us. We made the two-hour drive to them the next morning - the first time Shirley had ever been in a car.
The rest of our week was spent putting together a plan to bring as many dogs to safety as we could in one van journey. We have booked a whole van out to us from 28 to 30 July 2016, it has room for 21 dogs. Our volunteers here at The Sapphire Trust were unanimous in their support for our plan and have already started preparing for their arrival. So Operation D.O.G. (Dogs Out of Greece) has now been launched. We have 21 days to raise funds to transport 21 dogs to the UK: that's £300 per day. We also have 21 days to prepare their accommodation and stock up on food and other essentials.