The patience of Penelope: a Greek street dog’s odyssey from abandoned to adored (Part 1)

The face that launched a rescue

by Katerina Lorenzatos Makris ~

Penelope foraged for food in the rubbish dumped at the lagoon

Penelope foraged for food in the rubbish dumped at the lagoon

In Homer’s epic tale The Odyssey, set some 3,500 years ago in the Mycenean era of Greece, the story’s namesake hero King Odysseus leaves behind his beautiful young bride Queen Penelope on their Greek island while he runs off to fight a war, slay a giant, sleep with sorceresses, and accomplish all manner of other derring-do that seems to have been a requirement for guys back then.

These days, in real-life Greece and in many other countries around the world, derring-do is required of millions of unwanted animals who must prevail or perish on the streets. They must fight the wars of hunger and disease. They must endure assaults from giants (humans) who sometimes kick, punch, poison, shoot, or run them down with cars.

OK, so the dogs don’t sleep with sorceresses as did Odysseus (every chance he got), but the females do constantly become pregnant, struggling valiantly to care for litter after litter of unlucky puppies who often don’t make it past a few weeks or months.

Just to survive, street dogs have to be nothing short of heroes.

The wait



Along with cleverness and courage, these animals must possess extraordinary patience while they search for the attention and love they deserve, like what Queen Penelope demonstrated as she waited not one, not two, but twenty years for her man to mosey his way on back home to her.

Epic derring-do and patience are required not just of Greek dogs, but also of their rescuers, even if it’s only to accomplish the nerve-racking task of spreading time, space, and money way too thin.

In fact some of the most harrowing moments in animal rescue, no matter which country you’re in, come when you find a critter in need, but can do little about it because you’re already maxed out on available resources.

When I first saw a lovely young yellow Labrador mix scavenging through garbage on the shore of a Greek island’s lagoon, I was in exactly that situation. There she was, a friendly girl whose mellow temperament would fit her into just about any adopter’s home, trying to survive the last weeks of a stormy winter out on her own. She needed help, which right then I was not in a position to give.

The dilemma

The lagoon girl looked like a twin to Kali, a pooch we already had in our rescue pipeline. Three months before, I had collected Kali off the streets of the island’s main town just a few minutes’ stroll from the lagoon. While walking with Kali on the lagoon perimeter path, I could barely distinguish her from her lookalike. About the same color, shape, size, and age, they might have been sisters. How could I walk off and leave the other one behind?

Making friends

Making friends

There were important plans in place for Kali, and if I didn’t focus on those, I might totally mess up her future. Danish re-homing group Graeske Hunde had kindly answered my pleas to take her into their program, and, miraculously had already found her a home. My job was to get her to Athens for her upcoming flight to Copenhagen, her journey to a heavenly new life.

At the same time I was trying to complete some repairs to keep our crumbling old house on the island from falling apart around our ears. It had already taken about six months longer than the date when I was supposed to have gone home to my hubsy (a.k.a. The Saint) and our own dogs in California. It wouldn’t be fair to any of the above if got mixed up in another rescue.

The local shelters and rescue groups were already packed. They couldn’t accept new animals. Same problem at the paid boarding kennel. All my fellow rescuers and foster families on the island were beyond full, so those were not options either.

A nice young man and woman stopped by every day to feed her

A nice young man and woman stopped by every day to feed her

But this sweet girl stood there looking up at me, wagging her long blonde tail, playfully approaching Kali. It would be easy as gin to just stroll back to the car, open the door, and let her hop in.

The promise

I might indeed have driven away with the lagoon girl that day, if two young islanders hadn’t come by while I was considering it.

“We stop here every day to feed her,” said the woman. “So at least she’s getting something. She’s so sweet.”

“A really nice dog,” the man echoed. “If I could take her home, I would.”

I nodded. “Same here. That’s the problem for all of us. So many dogs like this, and not enough homes. The numbers just don’t match up. But it’s wonderful that you’re feeding her. Thank you. That’s half the battle for a street dog. Getting enough nutrition helps them keep up their strength and immunity.”

Sweet girl

Sweet girl

I turned to the dog, and before I knew it, the words tumbled out: “Sweetheart, I’ll come back. I promise.”

In that moment I named her Penelope, thinking of Homer’s mythical queen who waited ages for her husband to return from his adventures.

“In a few days I’ll drive Kali to Athens,” I explained, “then I’ll be back next week, and I’ll try to come straight here.”

The man’s face lit up. “Will you really?”

I nodded. “I’ll do my best.”

“So you’ll adopt her?” asked the woman.

“No, but I think I can foster her and find her a home.” Like a tightrope walker, my voice teetered on the words. In fact I couldn’t believe such words were coming out of my mouth. I chewed on a nail, thinking of the words that would come out of my husband’s mouth once he heard about this new plan.

“Wonderful!” the man said. “Meanwhile we’ll keep feeding her.”

Harsh life on her own

Harsh life on her own

After exchanging hugs all around, including several for Penelope, we all had to go, leaving her standing there alone.

The search

During the next year, I had plenty of time to think about the decision I’d made that day, and to regret it. Not because of my husband, but because when I returned from Athens I looked for Penelope all around the lagoon, the town, and surrounding areas, in vain.

Maybe the young man and woman had taken her home after all? They were so nice—I knew they would have done anything they could to help her.

But with a dog on the streets, there’s no guarantee she’ll still be there the next day, much less the next week.

During our trek to Athens via boat and car, Penelope's lookalike Kali caught up on her beauty rest in a hotel

During our trek to Athens via boat and car, Penelope’s lookalike Kali caught up on her beauty rest in a hotel

I asked local shopkeepers and queried joggers who frequented the lagoon trail if they had seen a young yellow dog. I searched a couple of times a week for months afterward. No sign of that sweet girl. She had vanished.

To be continued…

Read Part 2 of “The patience of Penelope”

Read Part 3 of “The patience of Penelope”

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Searched for Penelope all along the lagoon and surrounding areas, in vain

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Katerina Lorenzatos Makris is a career journalist, author, and editor. Her fiction includes 17 novels for Simon and Schuster, E.P. Dutton, Avon, and other major publishers (under the name Kathryn Makris), as well as a teleplay for CBS-TV, and a short story for The Bark magazine. She has written hundreds of articles for regional wire services and for outlets such as National Geographic Traveler, The San Francisco Chronicle, Travelers’ Tales, NBC’s, Animal Issues, and (Animal Policy Examiner).

Together with coauthor Shelley Frost, Katerina wrote a step-by-step guide for hands-on, in-the-trenches dog rescue, Your Adopted Dog: Everything You Need to Know About Rescuing and Caring for a Best Friend in Need (The Lyons Press).



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