To me, he is the reference point that I am a human being

Phaedon is a 14-year old Beagle-Harrier dog. The first information I learned about him is that he was found in 2008 by a family of three, who saw him trapped in a tunnel on the highway to Tripoli. The parents’ daughter convinced them to take him home with them to Athens. As the girl grew up, however, she lost interest in Phaedon and the dog was left in the streets outside their house.

My acquaintance with Phaedon took place in 2010 in the area of Archarnes, where I was working at the time. I had already been taking care of three stray dogs: Rhea, Lucy and Hermes. One morning, Phaedon appeared, accompanied by Elizabeth, a 6-year old female. Phaedon was about 3-4 years old. From that morning on, at eight o’clock sharp, the couple would always show up and by two o’clock in the afternoon, they would depart for an unknown destination. The accuracy of their visits had impressed my colleagues and I and we often discussed the quirky newcomers amongst us.

Unfortunately, after several months of the couple’s visits, Elizabeth was hit by a car and Phaedon was left alone without a partner. Although he was inconsolable, he kept returning to the neighborhood. However, without the protection of his late companion his relationship with the other dogs became troublesome and one morning he stopped visiting. I searched for him for several days, but Phaedon was nowhere to be found.

About three months later, I was driving by his old house when I spotted a shriveled bag of bones with Phaedon’s fur colour in the middle of the street. I was shocked; my blood froze in my veins. I approached and saw Phaedon, mere skin and bones, in miserable condition and almost dead. I rushed him to the nearest vet, who gave me little hope for his survival. The dog urgently needed treatment with IV fluids and medication. After a week of hospitalization, he began to show signs of improvement, but in order to fully recover, long-term medication would be required, in combination with healthy fresh food. This was not feasible while the dog was living on the street so I took him home and that is how we started our life together.

From that day on, and for the next eight years, Phaedon came to work with me every morning. When I arrived I would leave him outside free with the rest of the ‘gang’, and in the afternoon we returned home together. In that way, I was able to provide him with medicine, good food and proper shelter. A remarkable bond developed between us. It was as if Phaedon understood that I had saved his life and he rewarded me with his companionship and faith. Despite being a four-year old, adult dog when I found him, he quickly learned to communicate with me. He demonstrated an impressive willingness to understand the things I needed him to do. I have never encountered this kind of behavior, not even in humans. Of course, these feelings were mutual. I respected his whims, and accepted him exactly as he was. If Phaedon did not have those whims, he would not be Phaedon, it’s as simple as that.

Unfortunately, things have changed over the past two years. I had to find a new job, and although it was in the same area, my daily routine changed a lot. Now, I had to leave him early in the morning outside my old job where his friends were waiting for him, and late in the afternoon, he would wait for me at the same place to take him home. It sounds ideal, but in reality, it was far from it. Most of the time, when I went to pick him up, the whole group of dogs, including Phaedon, were hiding. Sometimes I found marks from blows to his body and one day I even found carbine shrapnels from an air gun in his skin.

The area where these stray dogs had lived for a decade or so, which could be considered their home, had now become toxic for them: not by some natural or weather phenomena (after so many years, the dogs had found shelters for rain and cold), but by people. The workers that had been protecting and caring for the dogs for so many years had left, and the people who lived there were completely unwilling to coexist with the dogs.

These people, driven by cowardice, used stones, wood sticks and air guns to defend their precious civilization. They wanted the dogs to just leave and become somebody else’s problem. If you think that those people are the minority, think again. A large segment of dog owners who boast about their well-nourished dogs, are the same people who constantly throw rocks at stray dogs. They are the ones who proudly stroll with their big well-fed dogs and instead of feeding the strays which they could easily do, they swing a stick in their hand, with intent to use it on a stray dog! They think that there is a ‘social class difference’ between their ‘pure blooded’ dogs and the strays. They are referring to their dogs with phrases like ‘I don’t have a dog, I have a child’. But for them, the dogs who live in the streets are different; they are dogs of a ‘Lesser God.’

Therefore, in these adverse conditions, some people (hopefully with the best of intentions) found and gathered these dogs and in order to protect them, they locked them up in a kennel, Phaedon was amongst them. I searched for him for two days, and finally found him and took him back. Needless to say, all his friends remained locked in cages “for their own safety”, waiting for salvation from us and from our lost humanity. They all lost their freedom, for the sake of their safety. A “freedom” that has no place in our society; we are all deluding ourselves if we think that even our own species lives freely.

To me, Phaedon is the reference point that I am a human being. It is a life that I saved, that I will care for until his very last breath. He gives value and meaning to my actions. So my suggestion to you is to follow a similar journey and adopt a stray dog from the street or from a shelter, save it, take care of it, love it …… it will make you feel human.

My name is Michael Vafiadakis and if animal loving were a profession, I’d be a professional! As it falls under humanity and culture instead, I will be content with the title of amateur photographer, one who admires nature, loves all animals and adores dogs. FOTO M-VAF