If you’ve been to Syntagma Square in Athens then you’ll probably be familiar with the stray dogs of Athens that congregate there. By my count there are about half a dozen large-ish dogs of mixed breed that seem to have the run of this major central square in Athens.
Syntagma Square, for those not familiar, sits in front of the Greek Parliament building, which also has on its grounds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. At the other end of the square the very long Ermou Street, the premier shopping street of Athens, kicks off, and the Plaka precinct brims with shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels.
Syntagma Square is always bustling, popular both with tourists and locals, who arrive in their hundreds every minute from the Metro station that sits underneath it.
It seems kind of surprising then, that a pack of stray dogs would be able to survive in Syntagma Square, yet these dogs do more than survive: they thrive in it. They are an incongruous addition to an otherwise sophisticated environment, yet over the years they have become an integral part of the whole Syntagma Square precinct. God knows they have the run of the whole area; on my last trip I even saw one dog snoozing near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, unperturbed by the tourists – and soldiers! – who gathered nearby.
When I first saw the stray dogs of Athens I wondered how they managed to survive through the hot summers and cold winters. On this trip I spotted a young woman who had come into the city one night with the specific objective of feeding the dogs. She seemed to be checking them for any signs of ill health, as well, which made me guess she was a vet or student vet.
A lot of the dogs wear collars and tags and there are shops whose staff feed various dogs. There is obviously a support network of animal lovers that looks after these dogs. Even in times of economic crisis when everyone and every business is tightening their belt, the stray dogs of Athens remain at the heart of a community that finds a way to take care of them. They are quite literally the underdogs that everyone wants to see succeed in life.