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Animal Magic in Andros

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A Chance Meeting In Chora

I had only just stepped foot onto the island of Andros, the second largest among the Cyclades Islands in Greece, but in no time I found myself strolling through its charming capital, Chora. Accompanied by my knowledgeable guide, Fotis from “Explore Andros” we met Mary. I instantly knew there was something about Mary that I liked.

As we walked amongst the pretty pastel-coloured residential houses at the far end of Chora Old Town, I noticed a few cats hanging around the top and bottom of some steps. I quizzed Fotis and he said that this was the home of an English lady living in Andros. She cares, feeds, vaccinates and has coordinated the sterilisation of about a dozen cats that live around the Church of St George in Chora – her name was Mary – the cat’s names I did not ask 😉  

The Fixer

I warm instantly to people who love animals. To me, it says a lot about a person. I asked Fotis, who knew her well, to find out if she was at home. Mary who first visited Andros in 1988, used to teach Fotis English and I might add, she did a fine job! As luck would have it Mary was in. From our brief discussions, talking about all things life in Andros, cats and animal welfare, Mary told me something that excited me beyond words.

There was another lady, Sandy, whom she knew, up high in the Andros hills in a place called “Magic Mountain”, where she runs the Andros Animal Shelter looking after mainly dogs, and some donkeys, mules and cats. Mary went on to say that Sandy featured on a UK TV show in 2022 with Ben Fogle called “New Lives in the Wild”. Now I don’t watch much TV, but I love this series…. It’s been on my record settings for as many years as I can remember. Each week it follows brave souls who have given up their daily lives and moved away to follow their dreams, often living off grid or somewhere inhospitable or miles from home. I guess the adventurer in me, and with my love of nature, has always wanted to do this – it might just happen one day.

Fotis and I had a schedule to follow so needed to be on our way. I suggested that Mary should be our “fixer” and she should try to arrange a meeting with Sandy later in the week!

Magic Mountain

Fast forward four days and we met Mary in a coffee shop in central Chora and together we drove deep and high up into the beautiful Andros countryside to Magic Mountain. As if we were on a secret mission, we were told to bring a stash…… of carrots for the donkeys. On arrival, a couple of donkeys and a pack of about 20 dogs of all shapes and sizes greeted us at the gate. Then there was Sandy. We took a seat on her terrace, and she made us all a coffee. I was so excited and engrossed in talking to her that I was oblivious to one of her mischievous pooches marking his territory on my rucksack. The culprit, not the rucksack, is pictured further down!

Sandy’s story, very briefly, is that in 1979 she came to central Greece. In 1986 she moved to Andros and opened a tourist office in the town of Batsi. After a downturn in tourism to the island due to a lack of flights, she then opened an art shop. In 2007 she inherited some money and bought the 9,000 square metre house and land that is now the Andros Animal Shelter on Magic Mountain where she has dedicated her life to rescuing the dogs and animals of Andros.

Funding The Andros Animal Shelter

To say her job is hard is an understatement for someone, who, like us all, is advancing in years. Over time she has funded the rescue, care, protection and rehoming of hundreds of dogs, and on the day that I visited, there were 30 dogs and 9 donkeys under her watch! She also gets help from volunteers including remarkably, as I found out last week, the daughter of one of my travel agent Facebook friends (John Marchant and Maisie Amber Marchant) who only last year stayed on site.

Brexit has caused Sandy many issues with more red tape surrounding adoption and of course, there is the money, with it costing her circa 3,000 euros a month to run the shelter. The TV show helped her in that regard, and hopefully, Ben Fogle will return one day soon and give the coffers a boost with a follow-up show. Meanwhile, she relies on the goodwill of donations via the Andros Animal Shelter website as well as kind souls organising events to keep the cash flowing in.

The Stars of The Show

I met many of Sandy’s dogs and a couple of her donkeys and mules during my visit. There was the wonderful Bonzo – a big loveable cuddly dog with a deep voice who was quite intimidating at first however, he soon came around with some attention.

I was particularly drawn to a mum and her three puppies. One of the puppies, despite being full of energy, very sadly had a swollen head. Sandy told me this was a condition called hydrocephalus, a form of water on the brain, and sadly at this stage, there was nothing that could be done for him except give him love and kindness. That is never in short supply here at the Andros Animal Shelter.

Sadly a few weeks after my return, I learned that the little fella had passed away.

Mum and Pups
Mum and Pups

Little Piglet

After an hour chatting it was time to get on my way, but not before I asked after one of the stars of that TV show – Piglet! Now some of you may remember that Piglet was a little dog who had a walking problem. Her brain did not fully engage with her legs, so at times, she kind of dragged her hind legs around behind her.

I was expecting Sandy to tell me she had also passed away but no, Piglet was in her room snoozing. To my delight, Sandy brought her out and Piglet excitedly rushed over to me, well as much as Piglet can rush, to see who had woken her up for a cuddle and a photo of course! It made my day and privately made me a little emotional, but I won’t tell if you don’t!

Just Magic

As we drove to Gavrio Port, via the seaside resort of Batsi, I reflected on my day and the wonderful people I had shared it with. Such kind people have all been drawn back to Andros for various reasons. Mary to live and care for the cats, Sandy, to set up the Andros Animal Shelter and in the case of Fotis my guide, who previously worked in the busy capital of Athens, to share with tourists the island that he loves.

My day in Magic Mountain and my entire stay in Andros was just that – Magic!

Contact

The Andros Aminal Shelter looks after these rescued animals and brings happiness back into their lives. Some are up for adoption so if you are thinking of taking on a dog, then why not contact Sandy and give one of these Andros dogs a forever home – I would love Bonzo but my lifestyle would not be fair on him as I am away so much!

Maybe you would like to volunteer and help at the shelter. There is so much work to do daily so any help is welcome. You just need to get in touch with Sandy.

For donations, volunteering, adoption and more information please visit the Andros Animal Shelter website. If you can’t help, then by sharing these posts on social media, maybe one of your friends would like to help. It only takes one person to make a difference.

Check out my Facebook and Instagram accounts or click on the social buttons below to share this story.

You may also like to leave a comment below. It would mean a lot so thank you.

To read all about Andros please head over to my blog “Taking My Time On Andros Island“.

Till next time

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2 COMMENTS

  1. What a wonderful story – told with such compassion for the animals and gratitude to all the people who help them – and especially Mary with all her delighted cats. I’ve seen them run towards her before they can hardly see her as they know what kindness and goodies are in store for them.
    Congratulations to everyone.
    Jule

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