I expected to see ruins. I expected to see beaches. But I never expected to see the squares, parks and streets of the Greek islands crowded with cats and dogs. You see more of them here than people in some places, especially on the tiny island of Folegandros. The main town of this island—Hora—has several small squares filled with open-air restaurants.
I met my first Folegandros dog at dinner on our first night. He sat beside me with his sweet little eyes and I couldn’t resist dropping pieces of my chicken onto the cobblestones below. After a while, my plate was clean and I noticed my newfound friend was looking cutely up at another diner at another table.
Meanwhile, I felt a fuzzy feeling on my leg and looked down to see three very skinny cats under our table. They looked like littermates, with gray and white coloring. I later found out, they are actually a specific breed. The Aegean Cat comes from the Cycladic Islands, which are a group of islands in the Aegean Sea including Folegandros. They are known for their character and intelligence. Certainly, they have figured out how “cuteness” sells. They are also great for keeping down the population of unpleasant critters…if you know what I mean. I don’t think there is an Aegean dog, however.
After seeing all of these cats and my little dog friend, I began looking for the cats everywhere. And they were EVERYWHERE: Sleeping under the cacti, sitting on unoccupied chairs, in flower pots…you name it. While my family was looking at boat schedules and maps, I was looking for these independent little animals. For the rest of our trip I saw so many in the weirdest places like on rooftops and in places that take a bit of effort to get to like the steps at the entrance of the good old Acropolis.
I became very curious as to why these cats and dogs roam free and started asking around about them. I learned that, sadly, a lot of people get pets for their summer rentals, but when they leave, they don’t take them with them. That’s why you see a lot on the islands. In Athens, the animals breed and if the human owners can’t take care of the offspring they set them free.
Luckily, many of them have “guardians,” individuals (restaurant owners, store clerks and just random people) who “adopt” them. They look after them, making sure their needs are met. We saw one lady in the Kolonaki section of Athens opening several cans of cat food and dishing it out as many eager cats of all sizes sat patiently at her side. We met one taxi driver who went on and on about his dogs. He told us that he has ten of them and, in fact, insisted on showing us pictures of each and every one of them on his iPhone. They are all orphan dogs, he said, and he spends a lot of money not only on food, but medical expenses if any of them need special attention.
As I look back on that trip to Greece, I remember that we saw so many beautiful places, centuries-old ruins, extraordinary beaches and some of the best jewelry and clothing stores I have ever been in. But one thing I will never forget from my trip to Greece are all the cats and dogs that made me feel welcome
wherever we went.
Just-Teens Travel is written by Justine Seligson.