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USA welcomes ‘wretched refuse’—three unwanted Greek street dogs

New immigrant Despi was pregnant and hungry on the streets of the Greek island of Kefalonia’s main town Argostoli
New immigrant Despi was pregnant and hungry on the streets of the Greek island of Kefalonia’s main town Argostoli
Katerina Lorenzatos Makris

While three dogs and I traveled together from the quiet Greek island of Kefalonia to the bustling American state of California a few weeks ago—a long, complicated back- and brain-buster of a journey via land, sea, and air that spanned several days—I kept thinking how foolish it might seem to some, this exhausting and expensive effort that ultimately resulted in importing yet more needy animals to a country where public shelters euthanize an estimated three to four million unwanted dogs and cats per year.

It’s illogical to do this, I realize. During the course of my long stay in Greece, through rescue groups in Denmark and the Netherlands I managed to re-home many other unwanted street dogs, and that made more sense, since those countries have less of an animal overpopulation problem than do either the United States or Greece.

But for various reasons these latest three—Agapi, Julia, and Despina—ended up “following me home.”

Lady Liberty’s promise

During the whole trip I kept thinking about a pilgrimage I made a few years ago to a hallowed spot in New York City, where a 150-foot tall bronze statue graces the harbor to welcome incoming vessels.

About a century ago, all four of my grandparents also gazed up at that inspiring landmark when their ships sailed in from the shores of small Greek islands, Kefalonia and Patmos, to a considerably more populous one, Manhattan.

At the feet of “Lady Liberty,” on the pedestal that supports her, are inscribed the words that echo in my head now as I watch three of this country’s newest immigrants gambol carefree around our San Diego home and garden.

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

(from “The New Colossus,” a sonnet by Emma Lazarus, inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty)

Walking through the ‘golden door’

These three newcomers were indeed little more than “wretched refuse” in Greece, the magnificent yet troubled place of their birth, the country that birthed my own ancestors, and also birthed, in large part, my heart and my soul.

These beautiful, good-natured creatures were indeed “huddled,” and “yearning to breathe free.”

They were indeed “tempest-tost,” figuratively speaking, by abandonment, abuse, starvation, and illness.

Now they have walked through the “golden door.” They have ventured onto the shores of a young and vibrant land that, even in its relatively short history, has won renown for opening its arms to hundreds of millions of bewildered and bedraggled refugees of all races and species, not only to re-home them, but also to heal them.

Greece was the land of your birth, sweet angels—an ancient, spell-weaving place I love desperately and can never leave behind. But now, this big and bright nation that stands like a beacon so far away—some five thousand miles of distance and at least a couple of millennia in age—this open-hearted, bouncy kid of a country, America, will be the land of your healing, and it will be the land of your rebirth.

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Please note: The author proudly provides part sponsorship for many needy Kefalonian animals.

Meanwhile, Kefalonia Animal Trust (KATs) provides free spay/neuter for hundreds of animals per year here, including Agapi, Julia, and Despi. Please give to KATs via PayPal or bank transfer. Spay/neuter and education are the animals’ best hope for a better future.

Also please consider Animal Rescue Kefalonia (ARK), another group on the island that runs a shelter and works miracles with terribly few resources.

The author of this article has no affiliation with KATs and ARK other than as a friend, volunteer, and donor.

Seen our book? Your Adopted Dog: Everything You Need to Know About Rescuing and Caring for a Best Friend in Need, by Shelley Frost and Katerina Lorenzatos Makris, is available now through Amazon.com.