In Cyprus, volunteers work tirelessly to find abandoned dogs new homes abroad

Group rehomed over 1,000 in Europe, paving way for other non-profit rescues to follow suit

Constantina Constantinou with ‘friends’ at the dog sanctuary she runs in the village of Tseri in Cyprus

Constantina Constantinou with ‘friends’ at the dog sanctuary she runs in the village of Tseri in Cyprus

 

On a green hill not far from the 12th-century village of Tseri stands a sanctuary for abandoned dogs. Its mission is to “rescue dogs from the streets and killing pounds of Cyprus and find them new homes in the UK and Europe”.

After finding, feeding and rehabilitating lost dogs, Saving Pound Dogs Cyprus (SPDC) has flown more than 1,000 abroad for adoption, paving the way for other non-profit rescues to follow suit.

The prime mover of the SPDC, Constantina Constantinou, relates how she became involved in this all-consuming, never-ending effort when “someone stole one of my dogs”.

“I turned Cyprus upside down to find Spero,” she recalls. The quest made her realise “we have abandoned dogs in Cyprus, not stray dogs. Owners who do not want them leave them in the middle of nowhere without water [or] food.”

Most of the sanctuary’s residents are medium to large dogs. Compatible dogs reside next to each other in well-tended kennels. A couple traumatised from abuse and rejection cower in their shelters while cheerful, rehabilitated mutts clamour for attention as Constantinou’s colleague, Katy Stewart, and I walk by. Constantinou’s son is summoned when extra muscle is needed to control a dog.

Our contract says if you change your mind or something happens to your family, it is your obligation to contact us, and we will take the dog back. We do our best to be responsible

The SPDC started 10 years ago at a country house with five dogs and soon had 87. “People spread the word that we do not euthanise dogs, will do everything and anything to keep them alive, and find the right family for them,” Constantinou says. At present they have 43. Eight left for Britain on December 10th; a dozen will depart in January. As dogs go, others are collected from pounds and people and prepared for adoption.

Longing for affection

The UK adoption programme began in 2013. “We were the first to send dogs abroad. We used to fly them with Cyprus Airways and they gave us a very good discount,” Constantinou says.

As she speaks, huge, white, long-haired Arthur plods into the fenced yard, leans against me, nearly knocking me over in his longing for affection. Arthur is his name for the vet but he may get a second to attract adopters, and a third when he is homed.

After Arthur returns to his kennel, two newly arrived half-grown black pups come for inspection. Since the smaller appears to have a problem with his hind legs, Constantinou tells Stewart, “I’ll take him with me to the vet when I take another to have ultrasound.”

Social media makes it so much easier to follow up, using Messenger and WhatsApp. I usually take a dog a week

More than 75 per cent of the sanctuary’s adoptions have been in the UK, with some in Germany and one in Switzerland. “The British are well known as animal lovers and treat dogs as part of their families,” Constantinou remarks.

The sanctuary depends on its partner, SPDC Rescue UK, a registered British charity to meet and deliver arrivals and follow up on adoptions. The charity has a board of trustees, conforms to British laws and rules, and is run by 10 women, all volunteers.

They provide “back-up for life”, says Constantinou. “It doesn’t matter how many years have passed since a dog was adopted, our contract says if you change your mind or something happens to your family, it is your obligation to contact us, and we will take the dog back. We do our best to be responsible.”

Stewart adds, “Social media makes it so much easier to follow up, using Messenger and WhatsApp. I usually take a dog a week. We have a closed Facebook page for adopters only. That’s very popular because everyone wants to post pictures of their dogs.

“Without the UK we would be in jail – because of debts,” Constantinou quips. UK fundraising “is how we survive. We have to pay food, water, vets and the salaries of our two Sri Lankan assistants.” If old enough before departure, dogs will be neutered and given dog passports. The current cost of an SPDC rescue is £675 (€790). This covers care in Cyprus, travel and homing. No dogs have died in transit.

High rent of the country house drove them to look for a site that conforms to regulations governing dog sanctuaries. “With a lot of luck and help from people, we found this land, which already had 31 kennels of the right size. We didn’t have to start from scratch,” Ms Constantinou says. “We managed to finalise ownership on the day of the presidential election, the 4th of February 2018. I didn’t have time to vote,” she chuckles.

“We bought it [with] people’s donations. That is a bitter sweet subject for me. Bitter because we should have been able to solve the problem here, not move it to other countries.”

The sanctuary has added 10 kennels but needs piped water, electricity and security cameras. There are concerns about the setting of fire to scrub in a field close to the sanctuary every summer. To reduce risks, the sanctuary hires a tractor to clear the land and create a firebreak.

The sanctuary is run by volunteers. Steward is chief executive of a business services firm. Constantinou is formerly an air hostess who works in public relations and therapeutic massage. “I take courses. I am a dog trainer and behaviouralist. I want to learn more to help the dogs under our care,” she says, adding that she must treat all animals “with dignity so I have my dignity as a human being”.

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