Though Greece has made significant strides in treating animal abuse as the punishable crime that it is, activists and advocates say the system is still largely dysfunctional and allows many perpetrators to get away with it.
“There have been cases where animals died because a prosecutor could not understand the urgency of issuing a seizure order, or because the order came too late. Judicial workers need to receive some form of training on the issue,” the head of the Greek Animal Welfare Society (PFO), Irini Molfesi, told Kathimerini.
“Last year we organized two events in Athens and Thessaloniki with the Supreme Court prosecutor’s office, where top prosecutors from the United States spoke to their Greek counterparts about the importance of tackling animal abuse,” she added.
That said, the biggest challenge lies in public awareness and cultivating the perception that not only will acts of cruelty be punished but that animal abuse is also socially unacceptable. In this regard, activists have criticized a move by Alternate Minister for Rural Development Yiannis Tsironis to cut fines in half if they are paid immediately, saying it sends the wrong message.
According to a law passed in 2012, animal cruelty can carry a fine of as much as 30,000 euros plus jail time, while every official complaint goes on the record.
“That is why it is so important for every incident to be reported,” said Molfesi. “A complaint needs to be filed at a police station and it needs to be backed with as much evidence as possible to facilitate the investigation. The complainant should hold onto the protocol number so they can track the progress of the case through the system.”
Molfesi explained that in many countries, police officers receive special training that allows them while investigating reports of animal abuse to also look out for signs that the perpetrator may also be harming his or her family members. She added that PFO helped organized a seminar on the issue a few months ago for 200 Greek police officers.
“Cruelty against animals is a social problem, even more so since it has been proven that people who abuse animals are more likely to mistreat people as well,” noted Molfesi.
According to available police data, 1,900 complaints were filed in January-September 2017, compared to 1,307 for the whole of 2015 and just 809 in 2004. Of those 1,900 complaints, 938 led to a criminal investigation and 157 suspects were arrested.
“We don’t know if this increase is the result of heightened public awareness or whether violence against animals is on the rise. The only thing that we do know is that there are too many cases, which points to problems on many different levels of society, which are obviously heightened by the economic crisis,” explained Molfesi.