Greek street dogs finding homes in Wiscasset

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 8:15am

Two years ago, a dog outside Athens had buckshot in his head and no home in his home country of Greece, according to some of those who helped him. 

On a recent afternoon, he was 5,000 miles west, gnawing a yak’s milk chew at the feet of the woman who made Philo a Wiscasset dog.

Cynthia Pappas bought the 1858 former St. Philip’s Church rectory so the two could live in a town like Wiscasset. She’s had to start driving again after decades living in cities with public transportation. But she has no regrets. It was all for Philo.

She calls their home Philo’s folly because she bought it for him. “Literally, because I lived in a co-op in New York City and I couldn’t have a dog, and, because he’d been shot, I didn’t want him to have to deal with the noises.”

She said she looked from Biddeford to Belfast for a community that would welcome him as much as it would her, a place you don’t think exists and when you get here, you realize, it does. That was Wiscasset, she said.

On their walks downtown, Philo has someone at Treat’s who meets him at the side door with a piece of ham, Pappas said. Other merchants have been very welcoming, also. “And friends and neighbors. Bob Bond and Ernie Gallerani have come to our rescue on so many occasions. It's a wonderful community of people who step up to help each other. I feel so fortunate to have found my way here.”

Pappas wanted the once homeless dog to have a bon vivant name. She went with Philo after a fictional detective. But how he and other Greek strays have made it to the U.S., Germany and elsewhere is no mystery: Volunteers are rescuing, fostering and finding homes for them, said Pappas and Anastasia Aravantinou, president of Achaic Society for the Care of Animals, Patras in Greece. Aravantinou runs the group and cares for dogs awaiting placement, as she did for Philo while Pappas worked on the move. Pappas, with a background in art and auctions, helps on public relations. That has included spreading flyers around Wiscasset.

It’s working. The Wiscasset Newspaper interviewed two residents who, with Pappas’s help, now have “greekies,” as Aravantinou calls the rescued dogs. Kim Dolce and Jim Kochan renamed theirs Iggy Pup. He’s all arms and legs and is a big character, Dolce said. The couple had each been a long time since having a dog, and were ready for one, when they saw a flyer Pappas put at the post office. Online, they found him, going by Donut then.

Pappas and Aravantinou found him when Pappas was in Greece to pick up Philo to take home. Aravantinou recalled in a text: “In the middle of a rural street we saw a puppy in very bad condition ... his coat was very irritated, red, covered with flakes and he had very (little) hair. His eyes were swollen and he could barely walk.” Pappas said the dog collapsed in her arms. “I thought he’d died.” But care brought him back to health and now to home, with Dolce and Kochan.

“We are thrilled to have him,” with Pappas’s wonderful help, Dolce said.

Wiscasset’s Susan and Jerry Buehler feel the same about Pappas, and the Greek rescue she helped them get, Lillee. Pappas said Lillee was a stray living next to a gas station, where she would try to get into or follow the cars of anyone who showed her kindness. A friend of Aravantinou’s was feeding her but couldn't take her. “She was terrified that poor Lillee would get hit by a car as she always chased her car after she stopped to give her food. Anastasia stepped up as usual and got Lillee. She was such a sweet but submissive dog ... Anastasia was worried about her safety, so we decided I would bring Lillee back with Philo, and find her a home here.”

Pappas said Bond made a beautiful poster. It got a big response and led to the Buehlers adopting her. “She is the best girl,” Susan Buehler said. And Lillee loves to dig. “We have a ditch in the yard and it’s getting bigger every day,” she said, laughing, Tuesday.

Pappas said The Ghost Dogs of Aspropyrgos rescued Philo. She recalled his picture breaking her heart. “I told Anastasia, and she ended up driving three hours each way to take Philo to her rescue. She held him for over a year while I struggled to get out of NYC. At Ana's, he had the space to run, and the company of 30-plus dogs.

“It may not have been a home, but it was the next best thing. He got fed nutritious food regularly, saw a vet as needed ... made lots of dog friends, and got affection from people for what may have been the first time. We are in Ana's debt for keeping him safe and sound for me. I will always be grateful. He is my best friend.”

Aravantinou said over the last several years the group has rescued about 300 dogs from the streets of Greece. Pappas has helped six find homes in Maine, among about two dozen she has helped get homes in New England and New York.

Aravantinou said Pappas has become the voice of logic in her head, offering solutions and other support. “The fact that she is Greek is a big thing as well. She knows the country, the culture, the mentality. What I do brings me down many times every day and gives me the highest feeling of happiness. Cynthia is on the latter part. When a dog flies to Cynthia, I really feel a huge relief and I can concentrate on the others, totally sure my work with that dog is done.”

Pappas’s mother was born and raised in a village outside Sparta. Pappas’s paternal grandfather was born in Greece and served in the U.S. military during World War I, she said. Her mother had told her about Greece’s strays, but Pappas only “half believed” until she saw for herself when she traveled there, she said. “With my heritage being Greek and because I was an art history major and taking a fair amount of pride in Greek history, I feel like I have to own some of the negative things, too.” 

Aravantinou said ASCA Patras also rehomes Greek street dogs to Germany and has rehomed them to the Netherlands and Denmark. “Even street dogs are kind and gentle dogs who are friendly and know how to live with people.” The fostering with her family and others helps prepare them, she said. It is a pity greekies are not appreciated here and are in danger since the day they are born.” Every adoption helps others be rescued, she added. 

For more, visit ASCA Patras on Facebook or at ascapatras.org