Vesna Jones, 60, founder of Greek Animal Rescue, died on May 15, 2014 after a long illness and brief hospitalization. Shocked by the many homeless dogs she saw during a month-long vacation in Greece with her husband Paul in 1987, Jones finished the “vacation” by volunteering for several days at an animal shelter near Athens, and adopted six dogs she brought back with her.
Jones started Greek Animal Rescue from her home in Hendon, a London suburb, in 1989. Greek Animal Rescue projects included helping to fund several dog shelters and a donkey refuge in Greece, importing former street dogs from Greece to Britain for adoption, and urging the Greek government to introduce a subsidized dog and cat sterilization program.
Jones’ work was honored by the International Fund for Animal Welfare in 2003. But her attempt to organize a boycott of the 2004 Olympic Games, held in Athens, backfired. The boycott was called to pressure the Greek government to fund and promote dog and cat sterilization, in place of either poisoning street dogs and feral cats, or impounding them to die slowly from disease and neglect. Jones’ boycott appeals gained momentum after the one public shelter serving Athens was demolished in connection with construction for the Olympics. Eventually the boycott was endorsed by most of the British and U.S. animal charities working in Greece.
Greek citizens operating animal charities, however, saw the 2004 Olympic Games as an opportunity for their work to attract more outside support, and pointed out that endorsing a boycott would appear to be anti-patriotic and invite retribution.
Olympic organizing committee president Gianna Angelopoulou Daskalaki, deputy agriculture minister Fotis Hatzimichalis, and Pan-Hellenic Veterinary Association president Kostas Handras in June 2003 appeared to hand the boycott campaigners a victory, announcing a plan to sterilize, vaccinate, tattoo, and return to their neighborhoods as many as 20,000 animals.
But little if any of the scheme was implemented, as the entire preparation for the Olympics incurred steep deficits. Some planned facilities were not built, others were scaled back, and anything that could be cancelled was.
Greek Animal Lovers Organization president Ioannina Karagouni meanwhile alleged that the charities exporting Greek dogs for adoption were actually supplying laboratories. Drawing support from a variety of celebrities, intellectuals, and tabloid media, Karagouni in March 2004 won a temporary shut-down of all dog and cat exports by organizations not operating licensed animal shelters in Greece.
Despite that setback, Greek Animal Rescue revenue and spending in Greece have nearly doubled in recent years. GAR in 2012 reported income of £279,000, down £17,000 from 2011, but expenditure peaked at £234,769.