ATHENS (Reuters) - There he is, yelping with delight as the youths start hurling chunks of paving stones, barking his admonition at a cordon of cops fending off petrol bombs, sneezing as he scampers through the tear gas.
Meet Sausage the riot dog, an amiable ginger mongrel resident of Syntagma Square in central Athens, who doesn’t mind if you show up for a day of mayhem as long as he can join in.
Whenever there’s a demonstration, Sausage is there, always taking the side of the protesters and cheerfully lending a sense of comic relief to the occasionally violent proceedings.
It’s made him a local celebrity. He’s appeared on the front of just about every newspaper in Greece and wagged his tail on TV screens and websites around the world.
On Wednesday when state workers marched against government cuts, Sausage was in his usual spot at the front, egging on the crowd with a hearty “Gav!” (Greek for “Woof!”), tripping up baton-wielding officers as they charged down the steps.
For the record: some people call him Kanellos — Cinnamon. The Athens municipality, which has known him since 2006 as Dog Number 1842, prefers Loukanikos — Sausage.
“Loukanikos or Kanellos. These are two of his many names. It’s the same individual,” said Anna Makri, head of the city’s Stray Animal Service. “There’s no other Sausage.”
As head of the department, Makri was sued once because Sausage bit someone. The case is pending. “He’s a loveable dog, but he’s a little bit hot-blooded,” she says.
Stray dogs in Athens don’t look like stray dogs in other big cities. Many, Sausage included, wear collars and tags.
Instead of rounding them up and destroying them, the municipal authorities of Athens pay to feed more than 2,000 of them. They are neutered, given vaccines, identified with microchips and released back onto the street, wearing a tag with a phone number to call if they are in — or causing — trouble.
You can see them snoozing in the sunshine by a statue, or loitering with intent in groups of two or three outside a cafe.
“In most European countries, they solve this problem with euthanasia. But Greek culture is against that. Our law is about rehabilitating the dogs,” said Makri. “People here take care of them and love them. They are like everyone’s dog.”
For a time there was talk that the financial crisis — the same crisis that has prompted the demonstrations that brought Sausage his fame — would force the city to halt the stray dog program, set up a year before the 2004 Olympics.
The program was indeed interrupted by a reorganization in recent months, but it has resumed, said Deputy Mayor Angelos Antonopoulos, himself a veterinarian. As for its most famous client: “The municipality takes especial care of him because he’s so lovable. And he’s also a symbol — a symbol of freedom.”
Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Myra MacDonald