BRIT holiday makers in Zante have been praised for helping save the lives of thousands of abused and abandoned dogs.
Youngsters in Laganas – a notorious Club 18-30 resort – are ditching partying to clean out kennels and cuddle needy pups.
Jamie Contonis, 38, runs Zante Strays and has a shelter in the party town which is home to 100 dogs, plus 25 in the grounds of her home.
She has seven pets herself, Chihuahuas Mickey and Minnie, Dobermans Balls and Mia, Labrador crosses Toffee, Bebe and Boula.
In May she had daughter Marianne with her partner Spiros. While many new mums struggle, Jamie is up until 2am most evenings finding dogs forever homes.
And she says she is forever thankful to British holidaymakers. Jamie said: “They come and help feed, water and clean the kennels.
“One DJ comes to help every other day, and we were donated three bikes that people can borrow to travel back and forward from the resort.
“British holidaymakers like to party and used to have a terrible reputation but they are wonderful to the dogs here.
“The dogs know they will give them food and water and be kind to them, so they’re really friendly and affectionate and make lovely pets.
“Many find strays while they’re on holiday here and fall in love and want to adopt them so we arrange for them to go to new lives in the UK.”
Jamie has rehomed 1600 pets since 2012. Animals are handed in daily and they’ve often been abused. One, Phoebe, a Staffie, was shot in the face and lost both eyes.
Another, Megan, was dumped in a sewer with her five pups and only two survived. But being adopted in the UK gives them a second chance of a happy life.
Paris Dewhurst, 23, an admin worker from Blackburn, Lanc, was on holiday in May this year and saw a dog running in and out of cars in the street.
He was skin and bone and she was desperate to help him but he ran away. Later, they found him hiding by a restaurant and took him to their hotel.
Paris said: “We put him on a lead made of a piece of plastic, but the manager wouldn’t let him stay so we put him by a tree nearby and stayed with him until the next morning so we could take him to the shelter.
“Jamie arranged for us to adopt him. We thought he was a whippet but he’s actually a big Doberman. He’s now twice the size he was. We adore him and are so glad he found us.”
Rebecca Wilkinson, 29, a firefighter from Aberdeen, adopted Bruce in June after her friend told her about seeing stray dogs on the island.
He’d been dumped with his mum Berry and his brothers and sisters as a tiny puppy and when Rebecca saw his cute face online she had to have him.
She said: “I wanted to give a rescue dog a second chance and Bruce is perfect. He loves coming running with me and cuddles on the sofa. He’s settled in to life here and I think the work they do is incredible.”
Adopting a dog costs £365 and Jamie and her volunteers arrange vaccinations, flea and worming treatment, a health check, pet passport and transport.
Volunteer Peter Getliffe, 62, a former builder from Salford, drives up 20 dogs every month on a four day trip across the island, then on a ferry to Italy before driving to Calais then crossing the Channel to London, dropping off dogs at service stations to their forever homes.
Peter, who has two dogs Charlie, a 12-year-old Cockerpoo and Jimmy, a 14-year-old mixed breed, said: “Some of them already have three or four Zante Strays. It’s wonderful seeing them go off to start a new life.”
To raise funds, Jamie and her helpers put on dog walks and restaurants and shops have collection tins.
Bars organise beach parties that the dogs attend and revellers can have a kiss and cuddle with them in return for a donation.
Last year, supporters raised £15,000 to build a shelter. One, Jeff Dunkley, 52, from Mansfield, donated £4000 and helps out at the shelter. This winter, Jamie needs to raise £5500 to build a roof for it to protect the dogs.
Jamie said: “We want to help as many animals as possible. We don’t have things like the RSPCA so it’s hard, but the holidaymakers make such a difference. I’d ask anyone thinking of getting a dog to consider a Zante Stray.”
A version of this story appeared in the Daily Star Sunday which you can read here Big hearted Brits bring back strays from Greek Island.