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The incredible (Cyprus) journey

pambos and alicat go on an epic journey along the west coast of cyprus
An unlikely friendship prompts an epic trek along the western coast. But it also raises awareness of some of the island’s unhappiest issues, finds Alix Norman

This is the story of Pambos. Like thousands of other puppies, he’s starving – an abandoned stray who haunts the Latchi harbour. It’s also the story of AliCat, a canny feline who’s making her way by her wits alone. Theirs is an odd pairing, an odd friendship. But it results in an incredible journey: a trek down Cyprus’ western shores, all the way from Latchi to Paphos, in search of sanctuary.

The Incredible Journey of Pambos and AliCat is the second book by Paphos-based author Jennifer Gardner. The first was Ella the Hunting Dog, the sad tale of a puppy who was bred, like so many others in Cyprus, purely to hunt. In Ella, we meet a gun-shy dog who’s abandoned by her owner, and overcomes all sorts of familiar privations to find a forever home. But in Pambos and AliCat, this literary universe expands to incorporate both the cats and dogs of the island, and the challenges they so often face.

book1Ella was written in response to the pandemic,” explains Jennifer. “When Covid hit, I was organising a huge fundraiser for PAWS. But when everything was cancelled overnight, the thousands of euros we would have made for the local shelter was gone. So instead, I sat myself down and wrote the book.”

Sold at local shelters and vets, Ella raised awareness of the plight of hunting dogs across the island, along with at least €2,000, all of which went to local animal charities. But two years on, Jennifer feels there’s more to say, more that can be done. And so she’s sat down once more to speak for those with no voice…

There are close on 200,000 stray dogs in Cyprus. Nobody is entirely sure of the number, because hundreds more appear each year, born in the streets or abandoned by owners. Few make it to the island’s shelters, which are, in any case, understaffed, lacking in money and bursting at the seams.

The cat problem is even worse: it’s not for nothing that Cyprus is known as the Island of Cats. Despite the recent cat Covid, it’s believed two million stray felines roam the country; a number that’s constantly increasing. And were it not for the work of dedicated volunteers at animal welfare charities and sanctuaries, many of these hapless strays would die a horrible death – riddled with disease and in excruciating pain.

“In Pambos and AliCat I wanted to expand the story to include the plight of both cats and dogs,” explains Jennifer. “I’ve noticed there’s often a divide between those who love cats and those who prefer dogs. So, in the second tale, Pambos the hunting dog meets the cunning old black AliCat. And together the two embark on a huge adventure in search of love and kindness.”

book3

While Ella was written to raise awareness of the way we treat dogs, this second book is greater in scope, taking in both animal welfare and the way we treat our island. So as Pambos and AliCat journey on foot all the way from Latchi to Paphos, we read about illegal littering, wildfires, and hunting, and meet local fauna including a Skops owl and a blunt-nosed viper.

As in her first book, Jennifer is writing mostly for children – bringing the issues of the day to light. And again, all proceeds will go to Cyprus’ animal shelters. But this time, she’s directly involved her audience in the telling of the story. Because with Pambos and AliCat, all the illustrations are by local children.

“It occurred to me that it’s children who are my readers, and children who need to be aware of the subjects I raise,” says the author. “So why not ask these youngsters to themselves illustrate the book?”

Once the story was finished, Jennifer contacted three Paphos schools, and spoke to various classes. “I explained what I needed and why, and was met with great enthusiasm,” she smiles. “And just a few weeks later, I had 54 wonderful sketches to work with!”

book2Fourteen of these were chosen for the book – “there was a surplus of snakes,” laughs Jennifer, “and more than a few squid!” – and the finished story now incorporates charming watercolour, pencil sketches and felt-tip creations that depict the epic journey of our two protagonists.

“It’s certainly not professional art,” admits Jennifer with a smile. “But it’s nevertheless lovely to see. And it’s certainly helped raise awareness of the issues facing strays in Cyprus. In fact, we’ll be holding an exhibition of all the illustrations at the Makers Space in Tala on October 21, and everyone is encouraged to come along and see the full 54 sketches in all their glory!”

In the meantime, Pambos and AliCat has just finished its print run, and will be available for purchase at a cost of €5 from various sanctuaries, shelters and vets’ offices around the island.

“Just as before, the entire price of the book will go to animal welfare,” says the author. “It’s all too easy to turn a blind eye to Cyprus’ stray problem, and assume the shelters will deal with the issue. But each and every one of these sanctuaries houses hundreds of cats and or dogs, and is run almost entirely on public donations.

“The hope is that the tale of Pambos and AliCat will make readers stop and think,” Jennifer concludes. “When we toss rubbish from our car windows or dump it in the fields, it’s often helpless animals who pay the price – cutting their paws on metal or caught in wildfires started by glass,” she notes, giving us a glimpse into the story itself. “When dogs are tied to trees or hustled into airless huts, and left without food or water, their distress is unimaginable. And when litters are abandoned, it merely adds to the overall problem – both for the animals themselves and for us, the residents of this beautiful island.”

 

For information on where to buy the book, visit [email protected] or from animal shelters around the island. For details of the exhibition, which will take place on October 21, visit The Makers Space

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