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Greek of the week: Julie Kelley saving stray cats in Athens (pics, vid)

Featured Greek of the week: Julie Kelley saving stray cats in Athens (pics, vid)

On the road from Athens to the port of Sounio, there is a two story peach-colored building standing alone by the side of the road, belying the fact that this not an ordinary domicile, but rather… a felicitous feline palace.

The two-story building is one of two such buildings being rented by S.M.A.R.T. (Successfully Managing Animal Rights Today), an international animal welfare organization dedicated to providing education and awareness in respect for animals.

I visited the cat home (shelter is an inadequate description) to see what transpires, to meet the cats and staff, and talk with SMART’s heart and soul Julie Kelley.

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The spacious home hosts up to thirty cats, at any one time, all neutered and chipped, and kept in the best possible surroundings. Staff feed, groom, take care of their health, and of course provide hours of much needed recreation.

As Julie explains, the caretakers are volunteers. A few are permanent residents of the Athens area, but most come from all corners of the globe, joining up for a short period. Foreign volunteers come for periods of a few days to a few weeks and share the facilities with its feline inhabitants.

Volunteers from around the globe

“I love cats, I wanted to travel to Greece, and this seemed like a wonderful opportunity. So I came here,” says Christine from France, who volunteered for two weeks.

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SMART hosts such volunteers providing rooms for hospitality, along with breakfast and lunch.

Eric and Amber, from Idaho, are using such programs to travel to countries, where they would otherwise be unable to. The idea is to do work you enjoy, while also using such opportunities to see places you want to visit. The same for Arvid, a feline fancier from Germany.

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The volunteers who stay at the shelter work with the cats for up to six hours a day, and sleep with the cats, well... if the cats want to.

A letter from a Japanese lady living in the Netherlands is characteristic: “Hello, I'm … , friend with …. . I'm writing this email as I've got your contact list from her. I'd like to try volunteer work at your place in December, for 2 or 3 weeks.(I'm thinking around 12th -27th Dec, for now). I love cat and dog. I used to live with dogs more than 20 years in Japan, and currently live with two cats and a hamster. I understand how to take care of cat (feeding, taking medicine, play with them).”

In this case, a love of cats is obviously a necessity.

The cats almost always come from the street, being rescued by staff, or being brought by individuals that have rescued them. They are neutered and chipped, and any disease, parasites, and disabilities are cared for. “This is not free for us,” explains Julie. “We pay for all their treatments, sterilization, I love cat and dog. I Certainly people help us, even pet food firms, and the vet gives us a special rate, but costs still add up.”

The cats are hosted until their adoption, which is advertised in social media, and on the SMART website. The organization vets prospective cat owners so that the animals are given to responsible persons that will provide adequate love and care for the lucky felines.

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The cats are given throughout the world. While there, we witnessed the preparation of two cats travelling to Argentina, and another two to Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. Others have travelled to the USA, and many have been adopted throughout Europe.

There are no adoption fees and adopted cats travel free, with SMART, not only picking up the fare, but also often providing chaperon travellers for the adopted pets.

I feel that I should appeal here, as a Hellene, to Americans of Hellenic descent to adopt felines born and bred in Greece, healthy, chipped, and a pawprint of the homeland. I would even advocate that Greek-Americans who wish to visit Greece to volunteer to work at Julie's cat domicile; fun and utterly relaxing!!!

The remarkable lady behind the initiative

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None of this would have ever been possible without Julie Kelley, Founder & Chairman of the Board of Directors of SMART, but really the person who had this dream and who has done everything in her powers to make it come true.

Julie is a New Yorker who loves cats and loves Greece. Meeting her was like meeting a druid, a pied piper of Felis catus, the common house catShe has spent a tremendous amount of her precious time and income in setting up and funding the organization, and continues to be a tireless locomotive for all its activities.

A veritable cat palace.

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Julie has outfitted the complex with all kinds of feline furniture designed by UK architectural firm Custom Cat Creations specializing in just such items, and paid for from her pocket. All sorts of passages, crawl spaces, scratching posts, nooks and crannies, perches, and kitty shelves to lie upon.

All the containers for kitty litter are placed outside for hygiene reasons, in weather protected areas.

The cats lounge, wander about, nap, or watch... TV. Yes! There are television sets in all rooms, always on for the amusement of the cats, which actually do watch them when they have nothing else to do, or are recovering in one of the infirmery rooms.

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And music plays all the time. It is a cat's paradise.

Education is vital

“We want to educate people and sensitize them to the plight and also the usefulness of our furry friends. Studies have shown the beneficial role of pets for the health and well-being of human beings. We want to educate the young, and have begun collaborating with schools, bringing the message of the importance of responsibly caring for pets, she notes characteristically.

The organization operates the PAWZITIVE program and publishes various education material promoting the health and well-being of animals and their relation to human beings for social and health benefits. Through their website and social media pages they provide real-time modeling of animal care in action.

Let's be S.M.A.R.T. believes that the only way to change the situation is through the EDUCATION. Therefore a very big part of Let's be S.M.A.R.T. activities and resources are devoted to educate individuals and communities about RESPECT, CARE FOR ANIMALS, ANIMAL NEEDS and HEALING AND THERAPEUTIC BENEFITS of animals. Let's be S.M.A.R.T. reaches to everybody - from children to senior citizens in order to raise the awareness through social media, by offering educational materials, giving a presentations in schools, organizing events promoting animal well-being or just by talking to people.

SMART’s activities which benefit the animals also include children in the activities (and also special interest groups like the refugee children where they mix art and animals). The activities are planned around something fun (for adults or children) and incorporate the animal welfare education together to show that these are all things that can work together (again as a balance).


“We have had events with the refugee children…we even had a Greek girl (7 years old) that had her birthday party at our cat shelter and we invited refugee children so they could integrate…it was actually an eye opening experience for the Greek kids…and all the kids in the end had a nice time all while learning about our incredible animals as well… I feel for them …We also got some dog medicine donated to us, so we sent a package to the Kavala refugee camp where they have 30 stray dogs…” Julie Kelley says, adding: ”And while I cater to the animal welfare situation here in Greece, I am not blind to all the other issues…and when I can help, I do…”

The  organization has also been producing a serie of videos aimed at the whole family, for English and Greek spaking audiences, outlining what everyone needs to know about having a four legged member of the family. You can see a video of the series HERE.

Julie hopes to actually get in one of the refugee camps in December and do something for the children…and the group is also planning a Karaoke event for late November or early December.

Visit their website to find out more at https://www.letsbesmart.org/ and https://www.letsbesmart-greece.org/ for information on projects in Greece. 

The Let’s be S.M.A.R.T. organization is a Public Charity registered in the State of New York under the 509 (a) (2) Status and under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 501 (c) (3); tax ID number is 20-4051556.