Greek Odyssey

A whirlwind trip to Greece to treat and neuter dogs

by Donna Boddie RVN, Dip A Phys

Back in May one of my vets, had returned from a volunteer trip helping the Friends of the Strays of Greece. Sheena has been helping them for many years and her own dogs are Greek rescue. While some people “frown upon” rehoming dogs from abroad when we have so many dogs in rescue centres, listening to her experience made me think. Stray animals are a worldwide issue but every animal deserve’s a chance. What could I do?
Adopt a dog, sponsor a dog, share posts of animals looking for a home, or give some time and use my expertise.

Sheena told me all about the trip, the trials and tribulations. After her story she wasn’t sure anyone nurse or other would want to go back to help her. Without a thought I said I’d go. 45 mins later after a physio consult and a little time to think I sought her out and confirmed I really did mean it and I had even checked in with my other half so it was a go!

I have done a couple volunteer projects, at 23 I went to Guatemala to do animal enrichment in a zoo, in Australia I helped at Bat Aid. Here in the UK I have done pro bono work for the Celica cross greyhound rescue, and the practices I have worked for have always done work for RSPCA or Cats protection or Dog Trust, my own dog of 13 years was a dog’s trust foster fail, but I’d always been a little scared to do a “veterinary project”. I have been in the veterinary industry for 21 years and I’ve always worked in top class veterinary hospitals and referral practice as an RVN and now as a veterinary physio, with fantastic support from colleagues, the best of equipment and a safe working environment. Projects abroad can be a different feat altogether.

The week before we left Sheena and I had a conversation where she explained what I should expect, and I’m pleased she did as words alone can not prepare you. I found it an assault on all senses from the noise, smells, sights. On arrival we were picked up by the shelter volunteers and started the project that afternoon. We only had four and a half days to do as much as we could.

Sheena mentioned she cycles from the hotel to the shelter and back every day and was I in. I thought in for a penny, so yeah why not. The cycle ride turned out to be 19 Kms each way, it took me 1 hour. I’m not a keen cyclist and it had been 2 years since I’d been on a bike, but it allowed some well needed alone time to clear the brain and thrash out some worries or concerns. We would get up at 7.20am and leave the hotel by 8/8.15. cycle to the centre and work through to 5.30/6. Lunch was on the run and I say a big thank you to Sheena for feeding me as I do get “hangry”. Then cycle home, shower, eat, sleep REPEAT.

In four and a half days:

  • We spayed 33 bitches
  • Castrated 2 dogs and 1 had an umbilical hernia repair
  • Sedated 3 dogs to deal with significant ear damage/disease
  • Treated 25 + dogs with sores, wounds or medical/ health issues and rechecked them as needed.

As you can imagine it’s not like operating in the UK. Its very much “back to basics”. There is a degree of disorder. I was afraid to do a veterinary project for three reasons, going back to basics and not coping I can be very hard on myself, the fear of being bitten, and losing an animal under GA. I am happy to say that I coped well with the “back to basics” – there is an added degree of stress and worry but as all our patients survived their surgery I had conquered two of the fears.

The dog bite was not quite as bad as my imagination and a complete accident. We had very limited medications, after surgery if an animal was uncomfortable we would give an extra oral pain medication. To save fingers we would hide the medication in food and feed from a bowl. While feeding one dog her tablet, a little dog who was recovering from GA and looked asleep, smelt the food and snapped at the smell which turned out to be my finger.

It’s funny how being in a difficult situation can show how well you can cope. Before the trip everyone including myself thought there would be tears. I quickly realised crying wouldn’t help me and it would make the whole experience more difficult. So, I breathed A LOT. At times I was scared, stressed and worried BUT I did it, and look back with a sense of achievement and the knowledge that we made a small difference to what is a worldwide problem.

I encourage people to step outside their comfort zone and do something “different”. Not everyone can be a person who works in a shelter or neuter animal’s but we can all make a difference, from liking a page on social media and sharing, adopting an animal or if that is not possible sponsor one. I could not do what I did for those four and a half days all the time as my body would not keep up and the emotional strain would be too much, but I can and will do things to help where I can. There are some special people out there in a increasing difficult situation doing incredible things in tough situations.