Tell me, do you remember the total eclipse of the moon a couple of weeks ago? To be precise, that natural phenomenon occurring on the night of the 27.09. to 28.09.2015 was a “Super Blood Moon Eclipse”, as the media so kindly explained to me. Super close, super red, super rare and watching it from my summer residence on Crete, it was super magical on top of all that.
For all the non-initiated, here is some background information. Due to my occupation as a ‘holiday rep’ I am stationed on Crete this year. My apartment belongs to a small complex in an olive garden, somewhere in the no-man´s-land between the villages “Gournes” and “Gouves”. Not far from my little dwelling there is sort of a “street-dog-reception-camp”, which I later refer to as “the shelter”, for the sake of simplicity. Anyway, exactly this shelter was going to play a big role in the turn of events of the aforementioned “Super Blood Moon Eclipse”
Just before I go to bed I decide not to set my alarm for 4 am. Today’s weather forecast does not sound like what you would call ideal weather to watch astronomical anomalies in the night time sky by. A thick cloud cover means it’s anyone’s guess as to which corner of the sky the moon is even in.
I drink the last sip of my tea, lay down and enter the land of dreams. In the middle of the night, I open my eyes and am suddenly wide awake. I feel agitated. I can’t remember what I just dreamed. What’s happening? A quick look at my phone tells me it’s 4am. I step onto the balcony and ask myself where these supposed clouds are? All I can see is a big red moon, smiling down at me. Impressive!!!
There seems to have been a power cut. The garden and entrance lights are out. Nothing unusual for this area as I have learned in the past few months. Anyhow, the power cuts lends itself to the night, allowing the stars and the moon to shine in all their glory- it truly is a magical sight!
A loud bark forces me to pull my chin back off of the floor. I glance down to see Baghira, my favourite dog from the shelter. On my free days, I regularly take dogs out, and Baghira delights in the extra attention she receives from me: a strong, black lady whose eyes seem to radiate an unbelievable wisdom. I throw on my tracksuit bottoms and leave the house to take Baghira back home. How did she actually manage to get out? Her collar is missing- she must have somehow shrugged it off. I’m guessing that she managed to escape from whomever tried to take her out earlier: Manolis, the owner of the Shelter, will definitely be worried by this point. As I start calling to this gorgeous little mut, she recognises me and starts getting excited. ‘Katze’ I shout and she obediently stops wagging her tail and sits down. It would probably just confuse German dogs, but ‘Katze’ (Meaning ‘cat‘ in German) is the Greek command for ‘sit’. She quickly devours the goody I give her and we get going towards the Shelter. As we walk across the long-abandoned Army base that lies between my residence and the Shelter, I notice that the moon is slowly getting lost behind the Earth’s shadow. Baghira is also looking in the same direction, and without any order from me, she reverently sits down. I copy her, sit myself down next to her and for a deep moment, both of us are quiet, just observing this wonder of nature. After a short while, Baghira gets up and barks at me to follow her: fine, today the hierarchy is reversed. I follow without complaint.
As we arrive at Manolis’ dog shelter, I have to cover my mouth with my hand to hide my girlish scream. I don’t believe my eyes!! The dogs are all talking to each other in a variety of different human languages some are even playing with Manolis’ pack of cards, others are dancing to the music coming from the radio and yet others are feeding and stroking the cats that live just outside the dog shelter.
“Are you surprised?” Baghira asks me in accent free German.
I stagger backwards and stumble over a dog food sack. I’m guessing that I probably screamed like a girl again as I fall over backwards and land on my arse. I don’t hear myself and for a moment, I’m not sure of anything…
At least, that is, until Baghira licks my face and in soft whispers begins a conversation:
-”Calm down, it’s all good. No one is going to hurt you.”
-”How come you speak such good German?!” of course this would be my first question…
-”You moron! Is that really your first question? Don’t you want to know how I can talk at all? And why the other dogs are behaving the way they are?”
-”Hmm, of course. What the hell is happening?”
-”Well, this evenings blood moon has lent us human abilities. I can’t tell you how we know that, but we all feel that the moon is somehow responsible. Of course, we also realise that these abilities won’t last forever. However, as long as we have the chance to speak human, we would like to ask for your help. As you probably already know, most of us here have had some pretty terrible experiences. A few of their stories you are already aware of, but I would like to tell you a few more.”
-”Here at the front, for example. This is Nicos. You have probably already asked yourself where his burns come from? When the house of his master went up in flames, he tried desperately to rescue his mate and their five puppies. Unfortunately he was unsuccessful. After the fire, his master couldn’t handle a dog anymore and sent him away.
-”The two at the front here are called Giorgos and Maria. They were both found as good as dead, dumped in a bin and brought here. Their 4 siblings didn’t survive the torture. Or here, the sweet little Marta, both her back legs broken and left for dead after a hit and run. Luckily, Manolis found her before it was too late.
-”Baghira, would you mind if I spoke with you friends myself for a minute?”
-”Knock yourself out, Ivan. You know that no one here bites!”
Baghira winks at me and I start to wonder around and mingle with the crowd. This night I learned a lot of terrible stories, and can’t help but marvel at the strong wills of these creatures and their instincts to survive. I almost have to cry.
Baghira consoles me. She assures me that even though they have all suffered a great deal, they are extremely lucky to have ended up here, with Manolis. This man has made it his life-long mission to re-house the street dogs of Crete and give them a new outlook on life. He saves them. He cherishes and cares for them. He feeds them and provides medicine and is quite often successful in finding them new homes.
Without a permanent place to live, I unfortunately cannot afford to own a dog. Nevertheless, I could still help the animals, Baghira explains. She knows that I will try to build something that will ‘do good’ and she asks if I could make sure that whilst carrying out this project, I tell people about the shelter here on Crete. I assure her that I was already intending on writing a report about the shelter and thanks to her, I now know how that report will look like.
I give Baghira a warm hug, and she pats me on the shoulder with her right paw. “Thank you” She says. “I am ¾ Rottweiler, hence my good German.” She smiles at me… it’s unbelievable, but for this night, the dogs even have human gestures. And not just that: one of her digits on both front paws is functioning like a thumb- that’s how she managed to loosen all the collars.
Baghira and I begin to play fight, and soon enough, the other 200 animals join in. Suddenly, the enormous Chronos jumps on me and shouts “PILE ON!” All the animals join him and after a few seconds I find myself at the bottom of a dog pyramid! I want to laugh but I have no oxygen left in my lungs. The laughter of the topmost dog gets louder. Before I explode, I am thankfully released. As the laughter slowly dies down, we all sit on the roofs of the dog kennels, staring speechlessly at the Blood moon noticing how, for a few minutes, it seems to have been completely sucked out from the rest of the universe. Deathly quiet.
As the reflective companion of the sun reappears, everyone begins talking again. It would seem that each of these animals can speak at least 4 different human tongues- impressive!
Right next to me I listen in on two dogs having a discussion… “I must say, I’ve seen more impressive Lunar eclipses.” mentions a Dachshund mongrel. Another dog, which appears to be mostly of German shepherd origin replies: “Hey, hang on a minute, man! What are you talking about? Yo Mama is responsible for most of the eclipses- when she climbs a hill, everything goes dark!!!”
Sooooo human-like! Displays of stupidity and more ‘yo Mama’ jokes make the rounds of the shelter. I crease up with laughter.
The more the red moon comes into view, the more barking I hear. The human languages are slowly being replaced. It becomes clear to me that the magic of the moon is coming to an end.
I kneel in front of Baghira and tell her “You can all be sure of my support, my friend!” She nods and licks me one last time on the cheek. It warms my heart.
Now the full moon can be seen in full and all I can hear is barking in the direction of the red sky. With a heavy heart I leash the dogs again, so that Manolis doesn’t keel over from a heart attack in the morning. Inwards, I say my goodbyes to my friends.
Background of this story:
The relationship between people and house pets in Greece is very different to that with which you are familiar in western Europe. In Greece, pets are almost never sterilised which means they literally breed like rabbits. Due to the incredible amount of puppies and kittens on the streets, they are not highly sort after and therefore not easy to pass on. Hence, it often happens that the offspring of pets end up homeless on the streets or thrown in a rubbish bin and left to fend for themselves, or die. The huge number of street animals is a source of annoyance and fear for many people, which often leads to these poor animals being poisoned in order to cull the numbers.
Manolis (a Greek animal loving pensioner) took on this problem himself and runs this small animal shelter on the outskirts of an old US Army base. Mainly dogs, but also a few cats have found a temporary new home with him here.
In Greece, there are no available public funds for such projects and so the shelter is funded mainly from Manolis’ own pocket and with the help of a few donors. However, since 2012, Manolis’ shelter has been more financially supported. The organisation “Strassenhunde Kreta e.V.” has been helping Manolis through the collection of donations and also by helping to organise the re-housing of some of the animals as well as volunteer helpers at the shelter itself.
The participants all work on a voluntary basis and you can find more information about this project at: www.facebook.com/Strassenhunde.Kreta?fref=ts
There is also a Homepage: www.strassenhunde-kreta.de.
The information is all in German and you will find all you need to know about adopting the animals or donating funds to care for an animal or just making donations towards general needs and also about finding work as a volunteer at the shelter.
If you would like to make direct contact with the shelter itself, go to: www.facebook.com/Gouves-Animal-Shelter-215371411825716/
(The information you find here is all in English.)
If you should find yourself one of these days suddenly on holiday in Crete and would maybe like to visit the shelter, it is around 15km east of Heraklion and about 300m inland from the well-signposted ‘Creta Aquarium’. Once there, please say hello to Manolis and my 200 friends for me.