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Anna Katogiritis spent her childhood in Greece struggling to make friends at school. However, this led to her developing a relationship with a different inhabitant on the island: stray cats.
Greece bears the burden of one of the world’s largest stray cat and dog populations, a fact highlighted by leading pet food company Mars Petcare. For Anna, the wandering felines of Karpathos became her steadfast friends and revealed a gentler facet of life in contrast to the harshness she encountered at school. These feline friends ignited a flame in her heart, inspiring her to one day return and offer her assistance.
Anna’s family later relocated to the United States, but she maintained a connection to Karpathos through summers spent with her grandparents. The promise she made to her “stray cat friends” continued to burn within her, driving her toward a dream of becoming a veterinarian.
After earning a degree in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Crete, Anna received an offer from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, leading her to the United States. Her journey took a remarkable turn when she volunteered for the Jane Goodall Institute and forged a strong bond with the legendary Dr. Jane Goodall herself, who became her friend and mentor.
Yet, her heart remained tethered to the strays of Karpathos. Over the years, the island did see the arrival of a few veterinarians, and a local animal welfare group was established in 2000. However, the stray cat problem endured. In 2018, Anna embarked on a mission to fulfill her promise, laying the foundation for her non-profit organization, Animal Welfare Karpathos, which officially launched in August 2020. With the help of local volunteers and supporters, she set out to make a difference.
Anna’s journey was not without challenges. Funding setbacks forced her to personally finance the pilot program, covering medical equipment costs and even the travel expenses of three volunteer veterinary students from the US. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the program’s start, but in 2021, Anna and her team finally set out on their mission.
Their approach was twofold – providing medical care to stray cats and fostering a change in the community’s attitude towards these animals. Setting up mobile clinics in villages, they performed spaying and neutering surgeries, aiming to control the stray population. During their first year, they treated around 300 to 320 cats. But their true success lies in inspiring locals and tourists to embrace their mission.
The positive response from tourists, who appreciated the organization’s work, played a significant role in garnering Support. Some travelers became donors, and local hotels offered free accommodations to volunteers. In 2022, Anna returned to Karpathos, even during her pregnancy, and the program continued to make strides.
Anna emphasizes the importance of involving children in their efforts, hoping to change mentalities for the long term. Schools were invited to participate, allowing kids to witness the surgeries and learn about animal welfare hands-on. The impact was profound, with one young girl aspiring to become the island’s next veterinarian.
Besides spaying and neutering, Animal Welfare Karpathos focuses on finding homes for strays and facilitating adoptions through a careful process. The organization has placed over 300 pets in loving families in the past three years.
The underlying cause of Greece’s stray cat problem, according to Anna, is “government neglect over the years.” The lack of nationwide spay and neuter programs has led to an overpopulation of strays. While Greece introduced a mandate for the neutering of companion pets in 2021, it faced resistance. Recent measures require pet owners to submit their animals’ DNA to trace those who abandon or mistreat their pets, with fines for non-compliance.
Despite the challenges, Animal Welfare Karpathos has made significant strides, spaying or neutering over 700 animals on the island. Anna’s vision is to control the stray cat population through various programs and convince the younger generation to take positive action for animals. Her long-term goal is simple yet profound – to no longer be needed.
Additionally, Anna founded the non-profit organization Veterinary Global Aid, aimed at providing free care to animals in need worldwide, showcasing her commitment to making the world a better place for animals.
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