Dog shelters in Cyprus are overflowing in what some volunteers are calling a crisis caused by the abandonment of canines adopted during Covid as well as complications arising from Brexit.
"Shelters are filled to the brim," said Monica Mitsidou of Dog Rescue Cyprus.
Dog adoptions were made by many people "when they shouldn't have" during the Covid-19 pandemic, Mitsidou told the Cyprus News Agency, calling the situation "unprecedented".
During Cyprus' toughest restrictions aimed at halting the spread of the coronavirus in 2020 and early 2021, dog-walking was one of the few reasons people were allowed to leave their homes.
Evita Charalambous, a volunteer at PAWS (Cyprus Association for the Protection and Care of Animals), blamed "the economic situation" and Brexit for fewer adoptions, saying Cyprus was facing a "massive problem".
But she also said people were failing to neuter their dogs, and pointed to difficulties finding pet-friendly apartments.
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Volunteers say demand for Cypriot dog adoptions has plummeted, particularly in Britain, which is usually a top destination for pooches from the eastern Mediterranean island.
"Brexit affected us tremendously," said Constantina Constantinou, a volunteer at non-profit Saving Pound Dogs Cyprus (SPDC).
"The bureaucracy is much more complicated," she told AFP, and the dogs' travel costs have also increased sharply, making it "much more difficult" for Britons to take in dogs from EU member Cyprus.
More than 3,000 dogs are estimated to be housed in shelters across Cyprus.
On the outskirts of the capital Nicosia, a husky with a purple-and-black collar stared out from its pen at a sanctuary run by SPDC, as other dogs nearby barked or pawed the ground.
'Not the solution'
At another shelter outside Nicosia, run by Simba Animal Aid Cyprus, several dogs played together in a large pen, while others sought shady refuge from the summer heat or lapped up water from a bucket.
Simba's Andreas Tsavellas, 43, said the number of strays "is always on the rise" due to "the economic crisis and other factors".
"We receive five to 20 dogs a week -- found as strays in the streets by the municipalities and then brought to us," he told AFP.
But he played down the idea that people adopted dogs during the height of Covid-19 restrictions as an excuse to go out, saying: "We haven't got enough data to prove that."
"We've always had cases of abandonment, not only during the pandemic," he said.
Volunteers have called on authorities to enforce legislation on animal welfare and to curb illegal breeding and dumping, often by hunters.
"The government must take serious decisions... and take action to make neutering (dogs) a law," said SPDC's Constantinou, adding that more checks were needed around importing canines.
Others said the current dog dilemma highlighted a different issue.
"Sending (dogs) abroad was not the solution," Charalambous from PAWS told the Cyprus News Agency.
"We were essentially sweeping the problem under the rug."