Loyal and loving, large dogs are still the most frequently abandoned pets. Alix Norman meets a Paphos man whose unusual travels are saving hundreds of the island’s biggest furry friends

Owning a pet is expensive. Budgies cost roughly €300 a year. Cats set you back twice that. And a small dog can run up costs in the region of €700 every 12 months.

But, short of a horse, it’s big dogs that are the most expensive pets to own: up to €1,000 per year in food, toys, treats, leashes, collars, and grooming. And that’s even before the vet’s bills which, alone, might total another €1,000 – even for a dog in perfect health!

Sadly, this expense often comes as a shock to owners who, unprepared for the amount of feeding, walking and care a big dog requires, simply dump their erstwhile pet. Shelters worldwide report that large dogs are by far the most abandoned animals.

In Cyprus, that means Pit Bulls, Huskies, Rottweilers, Dobermans and Mastiffs, according to Graham Shackleton. Most end up in the government pound (where, after 15 days, they’re put to sleep). But the lucky few find their way to the Rescue & Rehome sanctuary – the only shelter on the island that specialises in large dogs. And there, Graham and team rehabilitate, retrain and rehome these outsize canine companions.

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Given that they’re helping larger dogs, RnR’s costs are steep. And donations aren’t pouring in like they once did. Fortunately, there are people like Lee Carter around: dynamic fund-raisers, animal lovers through and through…

Paphos-based Lee has two passions in life: dogs and bikes. And, in his 15 years in Cyprus, he’s managed to unite the two several times to raise thousands of euros for local dog shelters.

“I love this island, love living here,” he grins. “But from the moment I arrived, I was immensely upset by the lack of animal care. Everywhere I went, there seemed to be dogs in distress: left to starve by the side of the road; roaming forgotten through the fields and forests. It broke my heart,” he adds. “And I knew I had to do something.”

Over the next decade, Lee cycled through nearly every country in Europe raising money for Cyprus shelters. He did it all at his own expense. Every cent went to the dogs.

img 6675In 2013 his ride from Akamas to Cape Greco brought in three vans full of dog food. In 2017, Lee’s trip from Barcelona to Athens made €7,000 for Limassol’s Sirius Dog Sanctuary. In 2019, Oslo to Barcelona brought in another €4,000. And in 2021, his round-the-island journey – complete with wild camping on beaches and in fields – raised a cool €3,200.

But, as of October, Lee has just completed his hardest trip of all: a 1,700 km bike ride from Zagreb to Athens. From which every cent raised will help the big dogs of RnR.

“When Graham told me over a pint that his vet’s bills were in excess of €7,000, I knew it was time again,” grins Lee. “And within 24 hours, I’d called my cycling partner in the UK and told him to saddle up – we were off on our charitable travels once more!”

This time, Lee chose Croatia to Greece, a journey of searing heat, rough terrain and precarious gorges: “a fittingly difficult tribute,” he notes, “to the challenges faced by the abandoned dogs of Cyprus every day.”

Setting off on September 15, Cyprus flag streaming behind his bike, Lee and his Welsh cycle partner Russ Murray hugged the coast of Croatia through the Dinaric Alps, crossed in and out of Bosnia and passed into Montenegro…

“By the time we crossed the Albanian border it was pouring,” Lee recalls with a shiver. “You could hardly see the path, and our shirts were stuck to our backs. We had to do 50km that day, up and down mountains. We actually worked out we’d ridden the equivalent of Troodos several times over!”

unnamedFortunately, the local welcome seemed warm. Unfortunately, it wasn’t genuine. “In north Albania, a little kid came up to us and reached out to shake my hand. I did the same; it was such a friendly gesture. Then he punched me. Full in the face. And ran off.”

It wasn’t the only moment of disillusionment. The duo had to cope with roaring winds, precarious downhills soaring temperatures and relentless rainstorms. But Lee kept pedalling, his thoughts ever on the dogs.

“Each day, as the donations mounted, so did my resolve. We hit €3,000 within the first week! €4,000 by Montenegro. By the time we crossed into Greece, donations were at €5,000. And though our legs were aching, our backs exploding with pain, we kept on going. Doing it for the desperate dogs of Cyprus.”

On October 5, exhausted but happy, Lee and Russ crept into Athens. “People had donated to our fundraising page, through digital banking, with pledges and promises. And, when I totalled up the final amount, we’d reached €6,000! It wasn’t quite our goal. But we knew there would be other kind souls, other animal lovers out there who would keep donating even after we’d finished our journey.”

Lee’s words are a reminder that for every heartless act of abandonment, there are kind-hearted individuals ready to step in. Or, at times, pedal in.

“For each person in Cyprus who abandons their dog, I know there’s a compassionate animal lover out there who will redress the balance. It shouldn’t be that way,” he sighs. “But it is. Until everyone on the island understands the responsibilities and the costs of pet ownership, this is a problem that will persist.

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“It’s such a shame,” he concludes. “Especially where big dogs are concerned. They’re the unsung heroes of the canine world: their size a mirror of their love and loyalty. If I had to, I reckon I’d cycle to the ends of the earth for them!”

Lee’s fundraising page for RnR Dog Home will remain open for the next few days. It can be found at FundRazr under the title ‘Cycling Zagreb to Athens in aid of RnR Cyprus Rescue Dogs’. For more information on Lee’s charitable travels, visit the Facebok page The European Cyclepaths