Wed 11 Nov, Moni, Limassol: Sandwiched between a Power Plant and a Limestone Quarry, an hour’s drive from the old town of Limassol, Sirius Dog Sanctuary is not signposted (on later asking why I’m told it’s to stop people from constantly dumping dogs there). It’s a sanctuary rather than a pound, funded purely from donations and fundraising; because of this no dog is put to sleep, sick dogs are immediately treated, and Anna and Julian, the two paid employees, are free to choose who they allow to adopt (she tells me stories of refusing hunters and those she considers are not serious about dog ownership, and the abuse she receives for doing so).
I arrive at 7am; turning onto the dirt road, left at the small chapel, I see a huge corrugated iron shed surrounded with small enclosures (for dogs with Leishmaniasis, a potentially fatal parasitic disease caused by the bite of the sand fly). As I approach, a woman with a London accent greets me and introduces herself as Anna. She’s running late and so quickly takes the two ‘office’ dogs for a walk and then rushes around administering medication disguised in food to the dogs in the shed. Currently there are around 200 dogs at the sanctuary. Anna tells me that the land is rented and that the owner has it up for sale. I ask if she thinks it will sell, and she says Russians are moving into the area and buying up the surrounding land and so there is a chance it will. If it sells she asks, what will she do with 200 dogs? She will have to chain herself to the shed.
Until 1971 dogs roamed freely around Cyprus. A dog control scheme was introduced to eradicate disease (particularly echinococcosis), resulting in the extermination of nearly 86,000 stray dogs, compulsory registration and mass spaying of females. This left an estimated 16,810 dogs on the island. The organized destruction of dogs has continued since then without interruption. Today there are an estimated 180,000 stray dogs each year in Cyprus. A 1983 paper by the Director of the Government Department of Veterinary Services states that “[a]t present, the dog population is under control, and all stray and unwanted dogs are euthanized.” Further “[t]he Cyprus experience….can well serve as an example for many other countries.”
Walking into the middle of the large shed a deafening cacophony of sound erupts from the surrounding enclosures. The majority of dogs at Sirius are large (Anna estimates 70% are hunting breeds). One or two growl or bark warily but most lick my hand through the wire and some lie down and roll on their backs, gazing up appealingly. Anna asks if I’m ok remaining while Julian opens each enclosure in turn to clean and I say yes; as the doors are opened the dogs bound out in packs, leaping and running, nose to the ground. Occasionally one rushes up and jumps at me, but all are friendly and playful and seeking attention and reassurance. After ten enclosures I retreat into the sunlight and fresh air. I spend some time in the play enclosure where some of the dogs run round, sniffing the air and looking out at the distant hills, while others sit in the shade. I leave in the early afternoon, back to Limassol to prepare for tomorrow’s 6am start to Oroklini.