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The Liberated Dogs of Greece



On an early morning in November, 2001, I awoke alone in a scruffy hostel in Greece. I scrambled out of my bunk bed and threw on a dress and some sandals before rushing out into the streets of the city that I would come to love like a second home. It was my first time traveling anywhere and I was a very green 21 year old who hadn’t packed the right clothes or even bought a city map. This trip would change my perspective on life though I didn’t know it at that moment.

Athens is a working city, thick with traffic, chipped sidewalks and motorcycle shops everywhere but it also has the distinction of being home to the Acropolis and it perches there, on a high peak above the city, reminding us that this is the nation that gave birth to Western Civilization. As I wandered along the urban streets on my quest to find the Acropolis, I smelled the salty aromas of the city. Noticing a delicious scent wafting above the smell of car exhaust, I followed my nose down a narrow street and turned the corner to spot two furry figures staring intently at a wall; one small and dirty canine with wiry hair and perky ears. His companion was a larger mongrel with a long nose and floppy ears. As I approached, I winced as I noticed Big Dog was standing delicately balanced on 3 legs because there was just empty space where his 4th haunch should have been. It was a pitiful sight and I felt sad for him. Suddenly, both of them turned to look at me curiously, seeming to assess my foreign, humanness before turning back to their task of staring at the wall.  As I  came to a halt beside them, I glanced at the wall to see what had caught their attention and found myself equally as captivated by what I saw.

The three of us stood there, Big Dog, Dirty Dog and I, staring. I was trying to sort out what the enormous Greek letters meant that were painted across the building. I didn’t know what Big Dog and Dirty Dog were looking at, but the three of us held our ground until suddenly, a piece of the writing began to move, rolling up to reveal a storefront and then I understood. A delicious puff of pastry scents hit us. Dirty Dog and Big Dog started to wiggle with happiness and I started to salivate. The baker was a large man and he looked surprised to see me standing beside his 2 most regular customers. 

He raised his hand to me, indicating I needed to wait a minute and disappeared back inside. By this time, Dirty Dog was dancing in little circles. The baker returned and served the dogs, just as they’d expected him to. They thanked him by licking his hands and shins before casting a farewell glance in my direction. I watched them loping down the street side by side; Big Dog remarkably agile on his 3 legs and Dirty Dog trotting to keep up. The baker turned to me with a big smile and I knew I was his next customer. I stepped inside his pastry shop and selected something with a mysterious filling, wrapped in layers of golden, flakey phyllo. It was enormous and looked delicious. I pointed to it  and stared at him mutely with hopeful eyes, unable to communicate because I could not speak Greek. He asked me something in his language and I nodded dreamily, unsure of what I’d just agreed to but enjoying the sound of his accent. I assumed he was confirming my pastry selection. He turned his back to me and opened a small hatch in a huge, wood-fire oven, pulling a plank of pastries out that were fluffy and freshly baked. He selected one and handed it to me proudly. I took one bite in front of him and practically swooned with delight, it was one of the most delicious things I had ever tasted, buttery and flakey and filled with something creamy and herbed. He raised his eyebrows, asking if I liked it and I very nearly licked his hands and shins like the dogs had. To my credit, I instead chose to kiss my fingertips to convey the magic that was dancing across my taste buds. He laughed and I reached into my purse to pay him. I held out my palm filled with various denominations, he rooted through the change, picking out coins until he had a whopping 80 cents in his hand. I stared at him, my eyes wide with surprise. This was 80 cents? I would have gladly paid 8 euros for one bite of this heavenly morsel. I shook my head ‘no’ and I quickly sifted through the coins myself, pulling out all the larger denominations until I had 4 coins that were each worth 2 euros. I handed him the money while he stared at me confused for a minute, then brightened and turned back to get more pastries, thinking I was trying to buy more. I was shaking my head no again and wishing I could speak Greek as a  teenager walked into the shop and stood beside the baker. I could tell this must be his son, they shared the same intelligent eyes. The boy looked from his father to me and then asked in English if he could help me. I happily explained that I wanted to pay for the excellent breakfasts his father had handed out to his other customers this morning. He translated and his father looked at me like I had gone mad. I used my hand to show the height of the two dogs and the baker began to laugh, understanding who I was referring to. Father and son talked and then his son laughed too before translating, “My father says, these citizens do not pay for their meals because they do important jobs in the city. They provide joy.”

“Tell your father that his bakery provides joy as well. This is the best pastry I have ever eaten,” I said sincerely. I saw his father’s eyes twinkle as I waved goodbye and exited back onto the street to return to my journey up to the Acropolis. After a few turns, I found myself treading more carefully along the slick, smooth marble walkway that led up the hill to the Parthenon. It was a glorious sight; creamy marble pillars and dark green cypress trees jutting up against a cloudy sky. Few other travelers were out this morning, it was still too early for the throngs of tourist groups to arrive and I felt as if I almost had the whole of the Greece to myself. As I paid at the turnstile before entering, I met a small cluster of locals who smiled graciously at me, surprised to see a solo American so anxious to pay homage to their history. I noticed each of them made eye contact with me and their smiles were genuine, just as the baker and his son’s had been. I felt something soft brush past my bare leg at the hem of my dress and looked down to see another furry frame, this time a large and regal Labrador. He calmly walked beneath the gate of the turnstile, as if he were Pericles himself, come to visit the Acropolis. The cluster of Greeks gave him a nod and one of them tossed a snack on the ground as he passed by. The old Labrador grabbed the snack and accepted a pat on his thick, tan rump as he continued on his way. I followed his path, amused because we both became winded several times and stopped to take breathers together. When we reached the top, he made a beeline for a small tree, near a water fountain to the right of the Parthenon and he sat down to survey the site. I plunked down beside him and together, we looked at history. As I sat beside this furry citizen, I realized what made me love Greece so much, it was the dignity that they displayed toward not only each other, but toward living creatures. This dignity is what civilizations are built upon and it was no wonder the entire western world tried to emulate the behavior of Greece; they’d shown us a more noble way to live. I smiled as I realized that watching the lives of stray dogs in Greece had shown me the dignity of mankind.

You might ask, why I shared this story and assume it is because I am the stereotypical  animal-lover with dozens of furry beasts packed into my animal-scented home. But this is not so. I shared the story because, finding stray dogs that are fed and protected by the entire population of an urban city was like a a litmus test that measured the human decency of the Greeks themselves. As I see it, when a community is kind to animals, without needing to claim personal ownership, it indicates that the citizens are likely decent people who have a broad sense of responsibility to humanity. 

My years of travels in Greece have shown this to be the truth. The Greeks have a kindness and a regard for living creatures that is underscored by a love for independence. I have consistently experienced remarkable kindness and been treated respectfully as a woman. I have seen children and animals tended to and protected by the adults around them. In essence, I have seen humanity at its best. Perhaps this behavior is somehow inherited from Socrates’s legacy of teachings on morality, introspection and the quest for knowledge. 

Certainly, some of you will immediately leap to contradict my kind words by recounting historical tales of bloodshed and barbaric war crimes or cite the current sour financial circumstances the nation finds itself in. While I would not disagree with you over such topics, I would point out that, any place on Earth where man has tread, you will find evidence of brutality and shameful conduct. And I would employ the Socratic method and ask the question, would it be correct to insist that an entire tree bears bitter fruit because a single apple contained a worm? 

Greece certainly has her flaws but it is worth remembering that she gave us a foundation that we still stand upon today and for that, I bow my head out of respect. 

About Me

Meteora, Greece 2015 Kate Voss

My photos and writing

"The unexamined life is not worth living" -Socrates

In a world so vast I feel an urgency to use my time wisely on this planet, to experience as much as possible rather than regret squandered time. My photography and writing is intended to capture the dignity of humanity, the elegance of nature and the splendid universe we temporarily walk through. 

Athens, Greece 2015 Kate Voss

How I got started

One suitcase, one map of the world and a desire to experience life. I have chosen freedom over stability in this lifetime and have enjoyed exploring careers that have spanned both the artistic and scientific fields first as dance instructor, artist and massage therapist. In college I studied internal medicine and later began working to recover human organ and tissues for transplantation before returning to the world of bodywork. Interestingly, my love of science has led me back to my artistic hobbies as I pursue other lifelong passions; photography and writing.   

Philipi, Greece by Kate Voss

Where I am Today

I currently reside in Oregon, working as an LMT by day and pursuing other hobbies; helping to fundraise for an independent film, exercising my Nikon D750 and writing when time permits.

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