When Sanja Dimitrijevic first arrived in Greece from her native San Diego, California some 20 years ago, she knew little about Greek culture aside from what she had learned in school about philosophy and art. But right off the bat, she couldn’t help but notice the strays.
“I was naive. I didn’t think about what or how often they ate,” Sanja explains. “But as time went by I began getting more and more involved. Not only feeding but giving medicine to sick ones, taking the injured to the vet, rescuing trapped kittens and such. Before I realized it, this had become a way of life for me. Something that gave my time here on this planet meaning and purpose.”
One day Sanja was headed to the bus stop after a quick visit to the veterinary office when she noticed a man sitting on the stoop of his shop. Next to him was a small, fluffy black kitten.
“How cute I thought,” Sanja recalls. “I couldn’t resist stopping and petting the kitty. But when I got a closer look at her I realized that something was wrong with her eyes. They had sort of a milky film over them and were a little crossed. I asked the man if the kitten was his and he said no. Apparently she just appeared out of nowhere and he had no intention of keeping her. I knew that being left out on the street, the kitten had no chance to survive. Not only was she too small to find food but she obviously had a problem with her vision. I just couldn’t leave her there knowing what would happen to her, so I found a small box and took her home on the bus with me. Mimsi still can’t see well and isn’t very friendly towards me or her room mates, but I love her.”
By an Old, Abandoned House…
When feeding stray animals in her neighborhood, Sanja tries to find quieter streets where bowls with food and water will not cause an uproar.
“I have to be careful where I leave them because some people don’t like having strays around,” she explains. “One of the places I found to be ideal was an abandoned house not too far from where I lived. It had a fenced in yard with a wooden door so cats could get in and out quite easily. Not only that, but they had a safe place to sleep or go to if there was danger from dogs or any other kind.”
“One day I saw an orange kitten sleeping in a curled up position by the wall in front of the house. Since I happened to have canned food with me, I petted her softly to wake her up so she could eat. When she turned her head I saw that her eyes were closed shut with mucus. ‘All right,’ I thought, she is sick but otherwise seems okay.’ I picked her up to clean her eyes and when I cleaned off the mucus and opened her eyes the sockets were empty, just two little holes. She was about two months old and I was amazed at how she had survived that long. I bundled her up under my jacket and took her home. Tiffany is ten years old now and knows her way around the house like any other seeing cat. She can jump on and off counters, the bed and other various types of furniture. I’m so glad that I happened by that old abandoned house when I did.”
I Saw Him Out the Window of the Bus And I Had to Go Back for Him
It’s not uncommon for Sanja to encounter animals in need during her commute by bus which allows her to focus out the window. One day in particular, her powers of observation gave rise to a powerful rescue.
“I taught English at a school that was not too far from my house but I still needed to take two buses to get there, ” Sanja recalls. “It was early evening and I was looking out the window as the bus went up the boulevard. On the sidewalk, not far from a shop that sold solar water heaters, I saw a large dog prone on his side. Something about his position alerted me, it just looked odd. I got off the bus at the end of the line and took the next bus going back to where the dog was. I got off the bus and started walking toward the dog. The closer I got, the more certain I was something was wrong. At first I thought he was dead because there was no movement when I called out to him. As I went down on my knees for a closer look, he opened his eyes. After a few tries of coaxing him to get up, I realized he couldn’t move. Was he poisoned? Had he been hit by a car? Whatever was wrong, one thing was clear: he needed prompt medical attention. I hailed a few cabs but once the drivers saw the dog, they just drove off. Finally the fourth cab stopped, a young man got out and helped me put the dog in the car.”
His Fate Went from Grim to Golden With Just One Simple Intervention
“Once we got there the cab driver carried the dog into the waiting room and left,” she continues. “I couldn’t stay because I had to go to work, but later that evening I called the vet and was told that the dog had been hit by a car but he was going to be fine. One of his back legs was injured and he would limp for a bit but otherwise he would make a full recovery. Once he was ready to be released from the hospital I couldn’t put him back on the street. Ads went up in the neighborhood, in the newspaper and on the internet. It’s been a year and no one has adopted Primo yet. He is a smart, playful, kind dog and deserves a loving family.”
Adoption is down and suffering on the rise right now in Greece as the economic collapse that has unfolded in recent years has made even the cost of basic kibble and litter out of reach for some. Overall unemployment here is at 22% while youth unemployment stacks up at a whopping 50%. Yes, take a moment to digest those statistics and you can imagine what the consequences are for animals and the number of throw aways.
Supporting Points of Light in Greece
This week, the Harmony Fund will be introducing you to some of the forces of illumination here in Greece, the amazing rescuers like Sanja who are doing their best to cope during tough times and to care for so many. There is particular gravity to Sanja’s situation as she lost her job two months ago and now she has only enough funds to make it through the end of the month. With 53 cats and two dogs in her home-based sanctuary alone, Sanja is a bundle of nerves. She spends 150 Euros a month ($185 US dollars) on kitty litter and another 300 Euros ($368 US dollars) on pet food.
If you’d like to reach out to help Sanja, you may make a donation through the Harmony Fund. All funds will go toward helping Sanja and two other extraordinary Greek rescuers who we will introduce to you this week.