Ever cried on an ATV? It’s a long story, that only really lasts four days.
It started one night in Santorini, at the bar of the El Greco Hotel, where we were celebrating and saying goodbyes following our friends Lindsay and Rob’s wedding. Amidst the caipirinhas and wine, in wanders the most adorable stray puppy.
She wound her way through the legs under the table and found her way straight to my lap. She was a gorgeous strawberry blonde, with the ears of a spaniel and eyes to melt your heart. She was friendly, but shaking. Clearly hungry. We pitched in to get her some food and she cuddled with us. On our friend Jas’ lap, I joked as I took their picture “family photo.”
It had entered my mind that this puppy could not live her life as a stray. I’d seen how fast people drive on the island. Her side also concerned me. It was puffy and if pressed gently, there seemed to be movement below the surface. I was afraid she was full of worms.
That evening she followed us to our room. I closed the door and re-opened it to find her sitting there, staring up at me, big-eyed and adorable, breaking my heart. I got her fresh water and walked her to the company of some late-nighters from England. I hardly slept.
Mostly I worried she would be hungry, or sick, with that mysterious side bulge. Fortunately, I thought, she’d found her way to the winding, protected maze of El Greco’s villas, where no cars were near and there was an endless supply of tourists with a soft spot for cute, and buffet breakfasts to share.
Next morning she was at the breakfast spot, happily sharing sausages and deli meats from guests’ plates. She sat with us by the pool and while cuddling, I resolved that not knowing what would happen to her would slowly weigh on me until I found more answers.
The front desk didn’t recognize her, but put me in touch with Helga, a worker from Santorini’s SAWA http://www.sawasantorini.org/. Allia, my wife, also looked into animal rescue in Greece and quickly received a reply from PAWS Pelion (near Athens); they advised to get her to a vet quickly and try to start the process. We also got the contact for SAWA (Santorini Animal Welfare Association) firstname.lastname@example.org
Helga met us at the hotel and fostered her, helping us get her to the vet. Within the day she had her rabies vaccine, de-worming, tick/flea medicine and we had her microchipped. The side, it turns out, had two teeth punctures that had let air below the skin’s surface and the vet, Margherita, shaved and disinfected the spots, assuring us that the air would drain on its own. Very relieved. She was such a trooper and we got her a passport, named her Gaia (pronounced GAY-a, ironically, in Greek). We were so close.
All that remained was to get her paperwork of permission from the government, allowing her to leave, and we had two days before our departure. Our travel agent also had to see if it was possible/allowed to get her on our flights. This proved more difficult, as it was Canada Day (on a Thursday) and there was no one in the office.
I tossed and turned again. Waiting was killing me. But the amount of support we had was incredible. I was so worried that somewhere along the line we would run into trouble and be unable to get her home with us. I posted:
“We are loving Santorini and we fell in love with a gorgeous little stray puppy! We have her shots, passport and are waiting on the okay paperwork from the Greek Government. Only once we are on the plane to Canada will I be relaxed. The last hurdle will be the small flight from Santorini to Athens, then onto the second plane. If anyone knows a dog lover in Athens who can step in on short noticed if we get stopped, please let us know. We are returning on Friday.”
-Amazing!!! That’s the best story ever! You work fast too, you already found a vet and did all the paperwork in the last day?? Crazy!!
-Sending good puppy vibes! All will be well!
-There’s a lady in Toronto who operates Tails From Greece Rescue – her email address is email@example.com – I’ve seen her postings before on petfinder but she doesn’t have an actual website (but is a registered charity). She might be able to help you.
There were dozens of replies, offering help and support, six different people from the wedding offered to pitch in to help cover the costs if we could get Gaia home, and even the hotel staff was on board. Teodora from the front desk said she would foster her for the months it might take to get the paperwork and sort out a flight, the bartender Vasilis said he’d give us 50 Euros towards her travel. Everyone, it seemed, was invested in helping this little girl get adopted. She had won everyone over.
The story took a sad turn, as we found that the paperwork needed to come from Naxos and we’d need to go to the harbour to pick it up in Fira. We thought, due to the language barrier, that we were meeting a person at a desk or office down at the harbour. We did not understand that we were meeting a letter, held on the boat, that would not be left IN Fira unless in our own hands. We narrowly missed the Blue Star Delos as it left the dock, after a twisting and turning ATV ride down the side of the caldera to the port. The port police officers, a group of macho, chain-smoking uniformed men, seemed genuinely moved as my eyes brimmed with tears and they registered how sad this moment was, after radioing the vessel to confirm that the letter was on board… heading back to Naxos. We were departing the next morning and still didn’t have a confirmation about flights for Gaia, with our time difference and the question of her documents, age and timeline of the vaccines. It seemed like a sign, but there was also some VERY good news.
Although I cried, full-on tears, as we drove back up the side of the cliff, Elena and Teodora had given us some hope – the owner of the El Greco was an animal lover and agreed to take Gaia, to adopt her if we couldn’t, having heard of all our efforts to do so.
Post: “We just found out our last document from the Greek government, authorizing the transport of the puppy fell through. We tried SO hard. With the language, time difference, Canada Day, short time period and tons of contradictory info between two airlines, it’s amazing we got so close. I am so sad, because we were really invested in this little sweetheart. BUT overall I ‘m really proud of us for trying and I think the way everyone here (and online) got behind us is a sign that there are a lot of big hearts out there. So big, in fact, that the owner of the El Greco (our hotel) heard about this little gal and has agreed to adopt her. So, our goal is complete; she won’t be with us, but she WILL be healthy, happy, safe and loved. Thanks to my wife, Allia, for jumping in with me, all in, and consoling me when it didn’t work out. The staff and friends here for Lindsay’s wedding have been amaaaazing. Hugs.”
We went to say our goodbyes to her that night, visiting her at Helga’s work, where she greeted us with tail wags and face licks. She was going to have an amazing life. With a final hug and, yes, more tears, we went off to enjoy our last night in Santorini. She was going to be a very happy girl.
We left her passport and vet records, plus a note, at the hotel and quickly received word that the owner had come to get her, and would email us with updates. Update number one, from the owner Maria, was that her brother had fallen in love with Gaia and taken her home. We also received one final assurance that we could contact her to get updates. What better end to the story could anyone hope for?
If you, like us, fall in love on vacation, get the process started early. Contact a local vet and get in touch with the animal welfare/rescue agency in the area. Also, contact your airlines immediately to arrange for travel on board your flights, checking age, weight and carrier size restrictions, as well as the necessary documents for the country you are travelling from, and your destination country. One final must: tell your country’s customs agents that YOU are adopting/own the puppy as your pet, not that it is being brought in FOR adoption, as this may be seen as a commercial transaction. Good luck!
This whole experience reaffirms that it is so much better to care and be invested, even if it’s sometimes sad, than to watch, hoping someone else will step in. Sometimes it feels really good to cry.