Veterinary medical students from Minnesota travel to Greece to help stray cats


In the villa near Athens there is a resort where about 50 pampered guests relax and socialize, eat communal meals, chant at the recreation facility, bask on the sun-washed balconies overlooking the olive groves and mountains and can be neutered or neutered.

Guests are stray cats that gather from the streets of Greek cities and are housed, fed and sterilized through an educational and rescue program. This spring, some Minnesota veterinary students are serving as interns in the program, Let’s be SMART (short for Successfully Managing Animal Rights Today).

Captured wild cats live comfortably in the resort – OK, so it’s more of a shelter – but they’re not in cages; they roam freely around the house, play, relax or watch cat videos on YouTube. They receive medical care as needed, in addition to sterilization, then they are given for adoption or released back to the street, hopefully for a better life than they had before.

In addition to the 50 cats in the villa, another 30 remain in a nearby smaller children’s home, where they are waiting to be sent to their adoptive families.

Ashley Walker, a student at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, spent a few weeks earlier this year on an internship assisting with surgery and other veterinary tasks. This 29-year-old native of Peru, Illinois, now lives in St. Louis. Paul, is one of five U Veteriny students participating in a Let’s Be SMART affiliate program; the others will go to Greece in May.

As a fourth-year student to graduate this spring, Walker has experienced surgery and was able to perform five castrations and four sterilizations during her visit. She also performed vaccinations, implanted microchips and otherwise prepared cats for adoption.

Trainees in the earlier stages of their training may spend time observing veterinarians, assisting with medicines or monitoring patients. Volunteers from all over the world also stay in the shelter and perform non-medical duties, such as picking up trash boxes, feeding cats and daily cleaning from the floor to the ceiling of the villa.

Walker stayed among the cats in a luxurious country villa. “I actually had my own bedroom with a few roommates – cats, of course.”

Cats everywhere

In Athens, as in other European cities, there are many wild cats, Walker said.

“I’m probably a little biased because I’m looking for them, but you don’t have to look around and see them – in restaurants that have outdoor terraces, e.g. [public spaces near] apartments where people will feed them regularly, “she said.

“Most of [the] the ones I saw were quite well cared for. Some are dirty, others need medical help, but in general most of them have looked good on the wild population. “

Contrary to popular belief, some feral cats get along well with humans. Kittens who spend time with people when they are 4 to 12 weeks old are learning to be friendly, Walker said. Even some older wild cats can gradually get used to human society.

But after this early window, many people are never satisfied. So after being sterilized and receiving the additional treatment they needed, they returned to their wild street life, Walker said. It may seem callous, but “keeps them at home, sees people every day – [an arrangement] That’s scary for them – really in their best interests? “

Walker plans to focus on cat veterinary medicine, a relatively new specialization. Historically, cats have not been perceived as pets as long as dogs, she said. For a long time, they were considered working animals – distant and remote, unlike snuggling dogs – whose job was to keep stables and houses free of mice. Even now, cats do not always receive the same treatment as canines.

“In general [veterinary] In practice, cats don’t get as much attention or their needs specifically as they do most dogs, “Walker said. In clinics surrounded by dog ​​odors, cats are notoriously more anxious and naughty … some of them barely allow you to touch them. . “

Walker grew up in a family of 17 cats. He now lives with only one, Merlin. In the middle of the conversation, she stopped to save the mouse that Merlin had caught in her apartment in St. Petersburg. Paul.

Give the stray a healthier life

There are about 100 million stray cats and dogs in Europe European Society for Dog and Animal Welfare. Most live in southern countries, where the mild climate allows them to survive outside all year round.

Tourist websites often feature cats roaming the streets as a charming feature of these destinations. But wild animals don’t necessarily have to live healthily, said Julie Kelley, founder of Let’s be SMART

Residents “are just used to being on the street and some will be fed by some,” she said. “It can be a bit barbaric; some people just throw them cat food or semi-eaten human food. When animals are sick – inbred, they’re not properly cared for – [residents] I think the government will come and fix everything that is not true. “

Cats are rarely accepted for sterilization – in fact, some people reject sterilization as unnatural, she said.

Born of love for animals

Years ago, Kelley, who now co-owns a construction company in New York City, sold the accounts to Greek buyers. She started traveling to Greece in 1998, moved there in 2005, and about a year later founded the non-profit organization Let’s Be SMART, supported by donations.

“I’ve always loved animals, I grew up with animals, so I said to myself that one day I would move here and save stray people,” she said.

Let’s SMART started as an educational program. Kelley made presentations in schools and was surprised to learn how many people “had no idea how great animals were to humans, all the benefits of caring for them, sterilizing them.”

The rescue part of the program began in 2011. The organization also sets up forage areas for strays and shows residents how to feed them healthily. For example, if a clean place is provided in the condominium, sterilized cats can keep the building free of mice and cockroaches.

The internship program offers students the opportunity to share information and learn how other cultures address veterinary issues, Kelley said.

“I just think our main model, ‘think global and act local,’ is a little more united in the world,” she said.

For Walker, the internship was a good experience.

“Working in another country not only gives you appreciation for what you have, but also a look at what you have in common. We all care about pets and we want to do the best for them,” she said.

“It’s just very special. Something I certainly won’t forget.”

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