Pages Navigation Menu

Animals in Santorini: An Ongoing Greek Tragedy

Unfortunately, I can’t un-see what I’ve seen.  These days I’ve wished I was a typical tourist, cruising into Santorini, spending a day wine-tasting, enjoying the views from the caldera, seeing the famous sunset from Oia and leaving the next day with memories of the perfect destination.  But I’m not that and the animals in Santorini broke my heart.


Staying a little longer sometimes means the veneer cracks for better or worse.


Santorini Animal Welfare Association

Loving dogs waiting for a home at the Santorini Animal Welfare Association.


Soon after arriving in Santorini, I saw a pitiful dog alone on the side of the road, always chained on a 10-foot leash, and neglected of water, food and attention of any kind for days at a time.  (Please see 2018 update below as to what can be done now if such things are witnessed).


Unsure of how friendly he was, I made desperate pleas to locals to at least provide water.  These pleas were usually met with an indifference to the suffering and an unwillingness to help relieve it.  I was told by the hotel owner that even the police would do nothing to help.  I considered stealing the dog, but removing a dog from a small island without paperwork would not be possible.  This situation tormented me.  How could all these people see this and not help?!  What could I do?


I turned to the Santorini Animal Welfare Association for advice.  While the kind voice on the other end was understanding of the problem, I was given a quick education about what could and could not be done to help.  And the answer was, not much.  And I learned that this dog is just one of thousands in Santorini (and Greece) in the same situation.


Animal Welfare in Greece Today

Santorini Animal Welfare Association

Playing with puppies at the Santorini Animal Welfare Association.


Baffled and upset, I started on a path of research that I would have preferred to avoid.  In sharing what I’ve learned, I hope you might learn something too and consider helping out if you come this way.

  • There are stray cats and dogs everywhere in Santorini.  When the tourists are here, they survive on scraps and the compassion of foreigners.  When they leave, many animals starve to death.  Yes, there are compassionate locals but there are not enough of them to care for the thousands of strays.
  • Greek people generally do not believe in spaying animals.  It is considered a sin to take away the natural “right” of an animal to procreate.
  • Greek people generally do not believe in euthanasia, also considered a sin.  If an animal is abandoned to the hands of a veterinarian, most Greek veterinarians will not euthanize the animal, but will put it out on the street to fend for itself.
  • Paradoxically, animals in Santorini get poisoned with regularity by locals because they are viewed as pests.  This, plus physical abuse and lack of food, water, and care, accounts for the low average lifespan of a dog in Greece – just two years.  Animals are poisoned with rat poison and ground glass in their food and their deaths are long and excruciating.
  • The Greek government has placed no priority on animal welfare.  There are just a few legal shelters in all of Greece. There are no penalties for those who abuse or neglect animals.  (Please see 2018 update below.) The authorities, from the government to the police, do not consider it important.
  • Greek people generally do not adopt pets from shelters but instead buy puppies from pet stores and then frequently abandon them on the street or chain them up when they are no longer useful.
  • There is no public education regarding animal welfare.
  • It is absolutely typical to see people (who seem perfectly nice) dumping live litters of cats and dogs into garbage bins for disposal, kicking animals, starving them of food and water, or in the case of donkeys, literally working them until they drop dead.  Sidenote: Until conditions change, please do not ride the donkeys when you come to Santorini!
  • Many Greek families come to Santorini for the Summer with new puppies to enjoy.  At the end of the summer, they leave the dogs behind to fend for themselves.


These are just a few of the conditions that lead to a gigantic mess of unnecessary suffering in Santorini.


Discovering all this, I felt compelled to do something, even if my offering would be a tiny drop of help in a vast ocean of need.


Help the Animals in Santorini by Helping the Santorini Animal Welfare Association (SAWA)

Santorini Animal Welfare Association

It was this pups first time seeing the sea!


I was lucky to connect with Christina Kaloudi, manager and primary caretaker at the Santorini Animal Welfare Association (SAWA).


Brave, driven, tireless and determined, she has been running the only shelter in Santorini since 2009.  And no good deed goes unpunished.  She has witnessed things that are unspeakable.


While some locals are compassionate towards animals and supportive of her, she faces significant harassment and local resistance on a daily basis in trying to continue her work.


For every dog that leaves, there is a new litter of puppies born, a new dog abandoned, new kittens and puppies at the pet shop.  And yet, she continues doing the best she can.  But it’s like holding back the ocean.


The shelter typically houses 80-100 dogs and 20 donkeys who have been retired from a miserable life of work.  There is a continuous effort, thanks to wonderful volunteers in Germany and elsewhere to get the dogs off the island and into the homes of northern Europeans.  It’s truly a Herculean effort to get these dogs into these distant “forever homes”.


Volunteering at the Santorini Animal Welfare Association (SAWA)

Volunteers come for a day or for months to help.  I was happy to meet Rob and Nancy, an Oregonian couple who have devoted their last year to volunteering at SAWA for a few hours a day.  They make a real difference here.


I spent four mornings (3-4 hours) volunteering at SAWA which meant being greeted by 80 happy dogs in the morning (amazing!), playing with puppies (adorable), and taking one or two dogs to the beach for playtime (so satisfying!).  The dogs gave back the love I gave by a thousand times.  Giving a dog that one-on-one attention they so desperately crave and deserve feels so good.  Combining volunteering at SAWA with a vacation in Santorini is better than peanut butter with chocolate!


Until cultural attitudes change in Greece, these animals, and the Santorini Animal Welfare Association, need all the help they can get.  Your help really does make a difference.


If you Witness Animal Abuse or Neglect in Santorini – 2018 Update:

The following guidance was provided by SAWA in response to people posting pictures of animal neglect on social media:

“Following the recent efforts to confront cases of animal abuse and neglect on our island PLEASE DO NOT post directly footage you obtain from animals you encounter in such a state. IF YOU REALLY WANT TO HELP THEM do it the right way! Posting especially on public groups in small communities has lead time and time again to the abuser being warned by relatives and friends and the animal literally disappearing before the police has time to intervene…. thus usually the abused and neglected animal will be moved to a remote location away from all eyes and will slowly suffer or die without help… Moreover much confusion and misleading news only stirs up the pot without really helping the animals.

Please follow these steps: 1. Obtain footage as clear as possible 2. Make sure you mark the exact location of the animal on the map 3. Avoid contact or any kind of conflict with the owner and do not tresspass in their property. 4. Go to the Police Station ( Karterados) and report to the officer on duty or the competent officer appointed to you. ANIMAL ABUSE IS A CRIMINAL OFFENSE it is automatically prosecuted YOU DO NOT NEED TO PRESS CHARGES only to report YOU DO NOT NEED TO PAY only to inform. In Greece the animal welfare organizations Do NOT have authorization similar to your country to intervene directly, the Police is OBLIGED TO INTERVENE to any form of abuse or “passive abuse”. If the Police Station does not take action you can inform the Central Police Department of each area ( Cyclades – South Aegean). Send us or other Animal Welfare Organizations your footage it will help as a ” witness” to this battle. Thank you!”


Learn more about volunteering at the Santorini Animal Welfare Association and other ways you can help.


Photos of the Santorini Animal Welfare Association:


  1. I’m currently in greece. There is this massive colony of cats, all hiding and hungry. There is probably about 20, if you see them don’t be fooled! It might seem like theres 4 but every time we come back there’s new ones and more we see. Many are hiding in good spots, or are around the area. They live near a horse and donkey at the Sfiga hotel in santorini. If anyone wants to help, they live near these trees, and piles of trash owned by a man we don’t know of. I have pictures of the area if anyone is interested. There is also a tiny tiny kitten, smallest I’ve ever seen in my life. She is so sweet, slightly fluffy, and she is a calico. If anyone finds her please feed her individually, her siblings hit her snd steal her food. She is a bit shy but doesn’t run away. She is very polite. You’ll know it’s her when u see her, shes tiny. I haven’t seen her in awhile, so I’m worried since she probably is hungry. I believe she is with her mom somewhere. Also, shes too young for dry food so feed her soft food without big chunks. There’s a bunch of older kittens but she is so small. I’m worried they wont survive during winter and I really hope someone can help this cat colony. We make sure to feed them every day. I don’t think it’s enough food since there’s so many of them.

  2. Thank you for this, especially the update of how we can help at the bottom.

  3. I am going to Santorini in August to attend my brother’s wedding and will be there for 12 days…..I am now filled with dread about what I may witness! I have been to Greece several times in the past and I am sad that little has changed over the years; although I am hopeful since there are obviously more caring people around who are doing their utmost to help and change things. I will certainly be vigilant during my stay and have contact details with me if i encounter anything. Thank you for everything that you do.

    • Yes, Jane, it can be difficult for animal lovers to witness some of the things you might see in Santorini. Please do not be filled with dread but rather do as you are doing and be prepared if needed to assist an animal. There are many people in Santorini that do care and my observation is that the attitudes are slowly changing about animal welfare here in Greece. There is a long way to go but I am hopeful. If you have time to visit the Santorini Animal Welfare Association you will be amazed at the dedication of Christina. Enjoy your trip.

  4. Hi there, we stay in a hotelin rhe middle of Santorini and next to a vet. In a cage in the garden there are five young dogs. We haven’t seen anyone playing with them or taking them for a walk. Also there is quit a lot of poop in the cage. Is there anything we can do?

    • I’m sorry Lisette that beyond the suggestions in the post I can not advise what you should do because I am not there to assess the situation. Based on what you have said, if it were me I would probably go talk to the vet and offer to play/walk with the animals and clean.

  5. I know this is not as serious as the other cases on here but next to where I’m.staying there is a young dog on a balcony barking day and night. The dog is obviously bored and not being cared for properly. The barking is djsturbing my sleep (I have a medical condition that causes pain and poor sleep) and I’m going to have to move accommodation at cost to me as there seems to be no one who can stop this poor dog being abused. I have complained to the management where I’m staying and they said they will approach the owner but I wondered if i should go too?
    This hotel risks losing business because ill certainly put it on my review. The way animals are treated here is poor. My daughter and I fed cats last time we were here and all the cats are breeding out of control. I saw a couple feeding and giving water to a chained up dog yesterday. Why get a pet if you don’t care about it?

    • Hi, Debra. I’m sorry to hear that this depressing situation continues and is not only horrible for the animals but for visitors to Santorini too. Money talks, and losing business will surely get someone’s attention at least for a moment. I encourage you to let others know about the situation when you return home and perhaps contact some of the people I suggested in the reply to Lori below. If enough people speak up, maybe something will change eventually.

  6. Hi Laura,

    Just got back from a week in Santorini. I was lucky enough not to see a lot of dogs and cats, but staying in Ammoudi Bay, witnessed the donkey abuse. Cages on their faces, sores all over, chained an inch to the wall for hours on end. No water. Haunted by it. I have pictures and want to make this change. Apart from donating to SAWA, any other recommendations? I was going to post it on Facebook, to expose it. Thought of writing a letters to people that may listen. Your thoughts?

  7. Hi Laura, thanks for this post and the info you’ve shared. I too felt helpless seeing some of the dogs that I did. It broke my heart to see cages and dogs on chains all while most tourists just cruised on by. I had to let it go – even got in an argument with my partner over it. Santorini is beautiful – Greece is. But it’s so heartbreaking to know this goes on. But I think if more of us write about it and raise awareness – and shout that it’s NOT ok, that can only be a positive thing. We have to keep trying to bring light. Thanks again for your blog – it’s good to know we’re not alone in trying to make a difference and caring like we do.

    • Hi Sarah, Thanks for the positive feedback. The more travel bloggers that write about it, the better. Especially if it sends volunteers and financial support to SAWA. Christina is a warrior but she can’t do it alone and there are so many animals that need help. I’m glad you’ll be helping to share awareness and thanks for writing and caring.

  8. Hi Laura, thx so much for helping to spread the truth about animal suffering on Santorini. Just like Nancy (I will write to her now too) I had to act during holis and take 2 cats to the vet. One made it and is now with me in Switzerland. The entire Story including a Business flight with the cat, then learning all about FIV+ and integrating my Oia Terminator cat with our 3 of course FIV- cat ladies until… 10 months later now our Gremy has become the most attached cat you can imagine – behaving like a Little cheerful dog dancing around us, always sitting on our laps, is amazing and far too Long to tell you now. However, the whole rolling Stone Story brought me to SAWA, then to co-founding Hundehilfe Santorin, a SAWA-sister for adoptions to Austria and Switzerland and now to my own cat spay/neuter Project. The Pilot will start this winter. Website, crowdfunding, local Network, volunteers for Sterilisation weeks etc. all in the Pipeline. All Forces must be bundled, anybody who cares, who became active, who wants to become active and the key contacts on-site like the vet’s, my SAWA friends etc. My question to you is: Can I copy some of your brilliant text? You can proof-read before we go live and for sure we would mention “Special thx” or whatever you wish on our platforms, incl. a link to your site, if you like. That would be fab. If everybody joins in, we can actually reduce the populations and this way the suffering of cats on Santorini. thanks so much for your Feedback, with best wishes for lots of meaningful Actions, like this Santorini Story of yours, Lucia, Switzerland

    • HI Lucia, Yes, you can copy my text for your cause. Please do let me know where it is used and provide a link to my site if possible. Thank you for caring about the animals and doing so much to get organized. It will be a great help. Also, I’ve removed your number from your message for privacy reasons. Best wishes to you.

  9. My family took a walk waiting for a taxi a came upon a 10 week old puppy. Homeless and dirty and hungry but so sweet. We took the dog back to our high end hotel in secret and fed her and gave her a good bath. In the morning we found a local vet who deals with SAWA. We came upon a roadblock to take the dog back to the states with us. We found someone to adopt the dog and went to visit the home. We took care of all vet cost plus the expense to neuter expense. In all we paid over $600 US dollars to save a life. We also work ate the vets office with the homeless cats. My teenage daughter and I felt so good that we made a tiny difference. I would love to do more but in a more organized fashion.

    • Wow Nancy. You are an angel. Volunteering at SAWA could be so depressing, seeing the cruelty of man towards these animals, but people like you gave me hope. There are many beautiful, compassionate people like yourself but unfortunately, until the Greek government and the mayor of Santorini gets serious about the issue of animal cruelty and neglect, it will be an ongoing struggle.
      Thank you for being so awesome and saving a life. You did make a difference.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons