US-based Veterinarian Returns to Greece to Help Stray Cats
Dr. Anna Kotogiritis, who spent her childhood on the remote island of Karpathos, Greece, has established a non-profit rescue organization to help the stray cats living on the island.
Although Kotogiritis struggled to make friends at school, she found comfort and friendship from stray cats that roamed the streets of Karpathos island. When her classmates were unkind, cats showed Kotogiritis a “kinder version of our world” and made her childhood special.
“At that time, taking care of stray cats was the one thing that was giving me hope and just a better view of the world,” Kotogiritis told CNN Travel. While her family eventually moved to the United States and then back to Athens, Kotogiritis vowed that she’d one day return to Karpathos to help her stray feline friends.
“That’s how my dream of becoming a veterinarian started. I wanted to give back to the animals that helped me so much when I was little,” she said. Kotogiritis explained that, at that time, she didn’t even know veterinarians existed, as there weren’t any on the island, but that she told everyone she wanted to be “a doctor, but just for animals.”
After obtaining a degree in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Crete, Kotogiritis was offered a position at the Virginia-Maryland Colledge of Veterinary Medicine and moved to Virginia.
Although she was far away from Karpathos, Kotogiritis never forgot the promise she made to the strays living on the island. In 2020, she founded Animal Welfare Karpathos, a non-profit animal rescue and educational organization, which brought together volunteers and members of the local animal welfare group.
From the start, the project experienced setbacks with funding so Kotogiritos decided to fund the program herself. After purchasing the medical equipment and medication, she also covered some of the expenses of the three volunteer veterinary students who were coming with her from the US to Greece.
“It was an amazing feeling to be able to say that I was coming back as a vet, and I can finally fulfill that part of my promise,” she said. “It was very emotional.”
During the first year, the team went from one village to the next, setting up mobile clinics and spaying and neutering stray cats. According to Kotogiritis, they treated around 300 to 320 stray cats in three weeks.
“We could have done a lot more” she shared. “But what we focused on the most was reaching out to the community and inspiring them to take care of the strays. So I spent a lot of my time that year and during that program speaking to the locals, talking to them about the vision and how much the strays need help.”
Luckily, this approach was successful. Kotogiritis feels this was partly because tourists who visited the island reacted positively to the program. Some of the travelers even donated to the program and a number of local hotels have offered free rooms to the volunteers.
“I think they liked how much the tourists liked what we were doing” she confessed. “So that’s part of why they ended up embracing the program. They could see that it had a positive effect on tourism.”
For Kotogiritis, the ability to change people’s perception of stray animals is one of the most important roles of the organization and she believes that getting children involved in the program has played a big part in this.
In addition to the spay and neuter program, the organization has been finding families for stray cats with the members and volunteers fostering the cats that are in rough shape and in dire need of medical care and attention. Animal Welfare Karpathos also assists in animal adoption and has found furever homes for more than 300 pets in the past three years.
Although extremely proud of her work, Kotogiritis confesses that “it hasn’t been an easy path.” At this time, her goal is to control the stray population on the island as well as to convince the younger generations that they need to take action and care for animals.
“My hope is that we’ll do enough work where mentalities will have changed enough that everybody will be speaking for the animals and taking action.”
Nevena is a freelance writer and a proud mom of Teo, a 17-year-old poodle, and Bob, a rescued grey tabby cat. Since childhood, she had a habit of picking up strays and bringing them home (luckily, her parents didn't know how to say NO). When she's not writing for her fellow pet parents, Nevena can be found watching Teo sleep. To her defense, that's not as creepy as it sounds!
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