Homeward Bound: Greek Dogs Travel 5,000 Miles to Find Homes in the U.S.

How a team of Michigan-based volunteers are rehoming dogs from Greece and other European countries to homes around the US.

Jennifer Cloherty
Jennifer Cloherty

Six months ago, Danos, a black and white English Setter, was the victim of a hit and run, laying on the side of the road outside of Athens, Greece. Already emaciated from being abandoned by his owner and now suffering from a fractured leg and broken spine, his chances of survival were slim – Danos needed a miracle.

Enter, Makis the ‘Pet Taxi’ (real name Gerasimos Tsounakis) and Maria Sougra, the operator of Pet Transport Kennels, an unmarked canine refuge located 25 minutes outside of Athens.

“The first time we moved him from the car,” Sougra recalls, “you could hear a ‘crack’ coming from his whole body. I thought he might break. And now he is climbing couches, beds, he is very happy, very friendly with the rest of the animals.”

Six months later, Danos had undergone several surgeries to repair his broken spine and hip, spending his time recuperating under the care of Sougra.

Once he was deemed healthy enough, Danos and five other pups joined Jennifer Cloherty and Kelly Hartwig on a 20-hour journey to Michigan to meet their new families.

Danos is just one of over 1,500 dogs that have been rescued by Above and Beyond English Setter Rescue (ABESR). Over the last few years, the U.S.-based dog rescue has partnered with shelters in Greece and other European countries to save the hunting dogs from starvation and overpopulation.

Greece’s Stray Dog Epidemic

According to local dog charities, there are approximately one million stray dogs in Greece.

Maria Sougra explains why: “There are so many stray animals because people don’t know that they should sterilize their pets so they won’t give birth all the time.”

The number of stray dogs also increases after every hunting season as hunters abandon their dogs once they are finished using them and they no longer serve a purpose.

Gerasimos Tsounakis, also known as Makis the ‘Pet Taxi‘, explains that keeping these hunting dogs as pets is still not an option very many hunters turn to: “We need time for people to understand that the animals are not tools, they’re pets. They’re not only for work, not only for hunting, not only for barking, not only for protection.”

Adopting dogs that were once used for hunting isn’t popular among Greeks, explains Jennifer Cloherty, international transport coordinator for ABESR:

“There may be adoption for some dogs, but usually small, white, fluffy dogs. The hunting dogs, the shepherd dogs they’re considered working dogs, outside dogs—they never go inside a home in Greece… So dogs like that have very little chance to get adopted here, so they have to find a place in Europe or the US or they have nowhere to go.”

“With love and care, animals can get over anything.”

With upwards of 40 rescue dogs at the kennels at any given time, the need for rehabilitation programs is never-ending, and the severity of the dogs’ condition can mean months of care. For Danos, that meant six months of rehabilitation.

According to Sougra, “…most dogs stay with us for 1-2 months to be healthy and sociable so they can travel abroad. They come to us traumatized mentally and physically, and they leave us healthy. With love and care, animals can get over anything.”

It Takes a Village to Save a Dog

David Leins / WDET
David Leins / WDET

After landing in Detroit, Danos and company are shepherded through the second half of their journey by a host of dedicated dog lovers.

Their new life starts at Cloherty’s home in Temperance, MI, which serves as a temporary base camp for the international rescues before they are ready for transport to other states — this time, by car.

The week he arrived in the U.S., Danos was one of 12 rescued dogs ABESR brought over from Greece, with over 140 volunteers providing ground transportation to get those dogs to their foster homes distributed all over the United States.

David Leins / WDET
David Leins / WDET

Saving dogs like Danos isn’t cheap, though. Cloherty, an executive at Kellogg, puts up thousands of her own money every year to help these dogs.

Cloherty relies on community support to generate donations and find foster homes, the two largest components to being able to provide care for the dogs.

In return, the dogs provide wags, smiles, and endless adoration.

Learn more about Above and Beyond English Setter Rescue.

Reporter Fahrinisa Campana contributed to this story from Athens, Greece

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  • David Leins
    David Leins is a Podcast Coordinator and Producer at WDET. He also oversees the StoryMakers program. When he isn't making radio and podcasts, David is probably on a hike somewhere marveling at the trees.
  • Russ McNamara
    Russ McNamara is the host of All Things Considered for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news to the station’s loyal listeners. He's been an avid listener of WDET since he moved to metro Detroit in 2002.