by Melissa Brunner
by Melissa Brunner
Among the items of interest our guides told us about Athens is how safe the city is. Sure, you might need to worry about the occasional pickpocket, but that’s anywhere. No, they said, you really didn’t need to worry when walking around exploring. And we did feel safe. We saw an incredible police presence on the streets.
We soon learned there’s another band on patrol.
Athens has a large number of stray dogs. They are everywhere. The number is estimated at 15,000. When you visit a historic site or walk the streets of the Plaka, they’ll be milling amongst the tourists. Our guide told us they are vaccinated and spayed/neutered, and volunteers give them food and water. They usually aren’t a problem, which was hard to believe on our first close encounter with them. While waiting to climb up to the Parthenon, we heard a ruckus and looked up in time to see dogs from every direction running toward a man. He actually was bitten – twice! Once in the arm, then in the back of the leg. Turned out, he was a guide who worked with the local tour company helping us out. The best anyone could figure was that he had a cell phone on speaker in his hand and the dogs didn’t like it. (You can see it in the pictures below.)
Later that night, our group decided to walk to the Acropolis to take some pictures of the Parthenon lit up at night. Quite worth the walk, as you can see.
At the bottom of the hill, two dogs started walking with us. They stayed with us as we stopped to take our pictures, but we got a little nervous when a couple walked past and they started barking aggressively at the man. The man even tried going after them with his cane to get them to back off, but they wouldn’t stop. A few people in our group started hushing the dogs and they finally calmed down. As we started back down the hill, the dogs followed. In fact, you might say they took the lead. But we got to noticing that each time someone came toward us, they would bark aggressively at them, just as they did to that couple. (They particularly didn’t like bicycles with a flashing headlight!) We got back to the main street and figured the dogs would go back to the bushes along the fence for the night. They didn’t. Somewhere along the line a third one joined the pack. They started up the sidewalk, “leading” us back to the hotel. And still going after anyone who came our way! They would start barking, continue until the last of our group had passed, then jog to the front again. For example:
There was one exception. A couple with a sleeping baby in a stroller approached. One of the dogs took a look and kept on going. Those dogs took us all the way to the hotel door. This wasn’t just a couple blocks, this was a 15 to 20 minute journey! A few people patted them on the head as we went inside. As we said our good nights, we turned to look outside. The dogs were lying on the sidewalk, peering through the doors. Our guards for the night.
No idea why they chose us, but we’re all curious to see if they’re still there come morning!