The patience of Penelope: a Greek street dog’s odyssey from abandoned to adored (Part 2)

My heart soared when I found her again.

by Katerina Lorenzatos Makris ~

The day I returned from Athens, this sweet but scared and sick girl was waiting literally on my doorstep. She was one of many rescues who kept me 'stuck' on the island that year.

The day I returned from Athens, this sweet but scared and sick girl was waiting literally on my doorstep. She was one of many rescues who kept me ‘stuck’ on the island that year.

After returning to the island from the trip to Athens, where we sent our rescued girl Kali off to her wonderful forever home in Denmark, there came a long string of other rescues and fosters… Diamandi, Agapi, Jorja, Ipomoni, and many more.

I should have been home in California with my hubsy and our own dogs. The dilemma was how to walk away from case after case of desperate animals on that beautiful but beleaguered Greek isle, my family’s ancestral homeland?

The whole time, Penelope stayed in the back of my head. I had made her a promise. I had meant to keep it. By the time I returned from Athens, though, she had disappeared from the lagoon where I’d had to leave her behind.

If only I had been able to take her with me that day, things would have been different.  [Read Part One of this article series.]

But regrets wouldn’t help her now, and neither would anything else. It must be too late. The prospects aren’t very good for street dogs. Unless someone had picked Penelope up and taken her in, she might have been hit by a car, shot for sport, poisoned, or… anybody’s guess.

By spring of 2013, a whole year later, I had finally given up hope of ever learning what had happened to that sweet yellow girl. And that, of course, was when I saw her again.

‘Here I am’

There she was.

There she was.

Visiting a local animal shelter to help with some re-homings, I felt that I was being watched, and upon turning around, found that there were indeed a pair of eyes on me—those of an elegant blonde in one of the pens.

My heart nearly leaped out of my chest. There are scads of homeless yellow Labrador mixes in Greece, and many of them are lookalikes. But as soon as I saw the one in that pen, at a moment when I wasn’t even thinking about Penelope but instead about the several dogs we had to prepare for their journeys to adopters, I knew. The beseeching way she looked at me, the graceful way she moved, the noble yet humble way she held her head, were all the same as the lagoon girl’s.

Those soft brown eyes seemed to say, “Well, here I am. Now will you keep your promise?”

Someone had seen her at the lagoon the year before, and persuaded the already too-full shelter to accept her, I was told. Under the shelter’s care, she had grown into a vibrant, healthy adult.

But she didn’t look happy. Some of the eight or so other dogs sharing her pen clearly dominated her, dashing past now and then to take nips at her head or legs, or growling and lunging at her if she happened to step too near the water or food bowls. She cowered and tiptoed meekly around the pen.

Now my heart broke to bits. The shelter’s dedicated staff—nearly all of them unpaid volunteers—worked insanely long hours to care for the hundreds of dogs and cats there, donating their time and and their own money too. But Penelope clearly needed out.

Life in a group pen at the shelter was not always easy for Penelope.

Life in a group pen was not always easy.

Another promise

Once again, I had to make her a promise. “My house is full again with other fosters, Penelope. I’m so sorry. Can you give me a little time? Just a bit more patience, OK? I won’t leave you behind, sweetheart. Never again.”

The shelter managers gave me permission to re-home her, and in the next few days, we got extremely lucky. In response to my emails, excellent Dutch re-homing group Stichting AAI agreed to accept Penelope into their program.

Then as icing on the cake, Alinda, one of my dearest friends, who had adopted my former fosters Jorja (now Granger) and Solomon (now Noble), cheerfully volunteered to foster Penelope, with absolutely none of the usual arm-twisting required.

Things were finally coming together for this beautiful girl.  Jubilant, I started making plans for her vetting, paperwork, and transport to the Netherlands. But the joy wouldn’t last long.

A little too plump

On my next visit to the shelter a few days later I noticed Penelope had gotten plump. And the plumpness looked a little suspicious, concentrated in the lower part of her abdomen.

Due to the constant state of emergency at underfunded shelters, mistakes are easily made.

Due to the constant state of emergency at underfunded shelters, mistakes are sometimes made.

Even more suspicious, one of the other dogs in the same pen, a lovely black pointer mix who was also being bullied by some of the more dominant dogs, was looking a little too plump in exactly the same way.

The shelter managers assured me that both girls had been spayed. No way could they be pregnant. I asked them several times about it, because the two dogs really looked pregnant to me. But the shelter managers were sure that the sudden weight gain was just due to overeating.

A lot too plump

A couple of weeks later my schedule with our other fosters finally cleared up enough so that I could take Penelope to the vet for her vaccinations and blood tests for Leishmaniasis and Ehrlichiosis, parasite diseases that often afflict Greek dogs. As per airline regulations we needed three weeks of lead time for the rabies vaccination to “cook” before travel, so it was urgent to get it all done as soon as possible.

Our beautiful eldest girl back home in California was dying of bone cancer. I needed to go home.

Even more urgent was the fact that one of our own dogs in California, our eldest girl Kisses, had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, bone cancer. Our vet predicted she had only a few months left, if that. The news was a knife in my gut.

I needed to prepare Penelope, send her and some other fosters on their way to the re-homing groups abroad who had agreed to take them in, then get myself and one more foster to the U.S. fast.

But on the day I arrived at the shelter to collect Penelope for her vetting, I saw that the plumpness had progressed for both her and the other female. Progressed a lot. They were enormous.

Emergency triage versus record-keeping

The conclusion was undeniable. The shelter managers realized that a mistake had been made.

Penelope’s lovely pen-mate, equally ‘plump.’

I felt horrified that such a serious error could have occurred, but completely understood. Mistakes are bound to happen when you’re struggling to cope with a constant deluge of animals dumped at your gates and everywhere else on the island. Many shelters around the world function in a perpetual state of triage, where staff’s time gets hijacked by so many emergencies that there’s rarely much of it left over for accurate record-keeping.

In any case, now the deed had been done—or two deeds, to be exact—and for better or for worse we had on our hands a pair of lovely young ladies “in trouble.”

To be continued…

'Can you help us?'

‘Can you help us?’

Read Part 1 of “The patience of Penelope”

Read Part 3 of “The patience of Penelope”

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One happy ending: Diamandi, a.k.a. Mandi, re-homed in Denmark, enjoying a sweet life with her forever parents Gitte and Peter, thanks to the help of rescue group Graeske Hunde. Would I be able to arrange such a bright future for Penelope and her pregnant pen-mate?
Photo: Gitte Kitt Cordsen

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We also do in-the-trenches rescues of angels like Robin, Chance, and Tiger, with help from San Diego Animal Support Foundation, and of Marisol and Lisa, with help from Last Chance at Life.

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).

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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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