Santorini Dogs & Donkeys: Walk a Shelter Dog with SAWA

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Santorini has its fair share of stray cats, dogs and donkeys/mules that need support, just like many other Greek islands. Santorini and Tinos are the two islands I visited where I’ve seen the most dogs running about on the street.

See also: This Is What Volunteering With Cats on Paros Looks Like

Some of the dog boxes have already been built and installed at SAWA

Over the winter I donated a dog house to the shelter as part of one of their fundraising appeals. They’re wooden boxes made locally on the island.

When I was last on Santorini I wanted to go and see the dog houses and meet everyone at SAWA so I thought I’d tell you about it here.

More dog shelters that were built on the island using donations

Quick Info

  • SAWA is open from 9am – 12pm every morning for visitors
  • You’ll meet lovely Christina and Dave who work tirelessly for these animals
  • You can walk dogs on the beach or socialise the puppies
  • If you want to help with the donkeys you can stroke and groom them
  • The shelter is tucked away in the hinterland between Emborio and Akrotiri
  • Find it on Google Maps but take the road by Playland (not by Grillicious) as that road is better
  • Use suncream or cover up. There’s shade for the animals but not much for visitors

Santorini Animal Welfare Association: SAWAland

Santorini Animal Welfare Association (SAWA) is the organisation on the island that helps stray dogs, equines and a few other creatures. They shelter the dogs and aim to rehome them through a company in Switzerland.

There are no cats at Sawaland, as the shelter is affectionately known. Sterila Cat is their sister organisation that runs the trap, neuter, release programmes and helps with fostering and adoptions.

The SAWA shelter is under construction as they’ve been embroiled in challenges of the Greek bureaucracy kind for years. They’ve only recently secured this particular piece of land where they can safely create a home. But the organisation itself has been established for decades.

Christina and Dave run the place and they were so friendly and welcoming when I visited them.

Retirement Home for Santorini’s Donkeys

Originally the association was set up as a donkey and mule sanctuary. There are about 22 donkeys and mules at SAWA now along with around 7 horses.

The majority of the mules and donkeys here were surrendered when they were too old to work. So most of them are quite aged.

But at the moment they do have a young donkey there who was basically discarded. He has a problem with his back legs that stops him from working as the issue often makes him fall over.

Some of the donkeys at SAWA were also rescued, as in, removed from the owner. In cases of neglect, the association work with the (equivalent of a) district attorney to remove the animals to safety.

When I visited the team were creating roof structures to give the donkeys shade for the summer.

If you go during visiting hours you can groom the animals if you like. I found the donkeys and mules are affectionate and like being stroked.

Walk a Stray Santorini Dog at the Beach

More recently the sanctuary has become a dog rescue place too. Currently, there are about 50 dogs at SAWA.

There are two sections for dogs, one near the entrance and the other up the hill. The lower area is being expanded so the dogs have more space to run about.

At the moment the back of their cages open to sectioned areas so small groups share an area they can play in.

The wirey puppy sitting up in the middle was rescued at the same time as these other puppies who were found with their mother. She then feed and cared for them altogether.

If you want to walk the dogs you can go each morning between 9 – 12pm to help out. The shelter’s right near the beach so it’s a lovely place to take them. In the warmer months, I’d definitely recommend going as early as possible because it does get hot.

Other Animals at the Shelter

Other animals alongside the donkeys, mules, horses and dogs are a rescue pig, goats, chickens, ducks and geese. They’re all very happy in their current home.

How to Support SAWA & Santorini Donkeys and Dogs

As well as visiting in person, you can help support SAWA by contributing to the on-going maintenance of the animals. You can do that by:

  • becoming a member of SAWA and donate 30 euro annually then you can join here.
  • making a one-off, monthly, quarterly or annual donation of your choice on the donation page. You can use the dropdown menu to decide how your money is used.

If you make a donation you’re helping with things like:

  • Buying straw and feed
  • Having the straw transported from other islands of the mainland
  • Buying dog food
  • Paying for sterilisations
  • Vet bills and medicine
  • Farrier bills so the equines’ feet and shoes stay healthy
  • Equine dentists so the donkeys and mules have healthy teeth and comfortable mouth
  • perimeter fencing to give the animals a better place to stay

If you’re interested in volunteering then there are opportunities for that too. However, at the moment you’d need to provide your own accommodation on the island.

Santorini Dogs & Donkeys: Walk a Shelter Dog with SAWA

Suzie Young

Suzie writes informative posts for solo, nervous or first-time travellers to Greece, Turkey and other countries on her 50-before-50 bucket list. She became a Greek resident in 2020 and intends to visit every inhabited island (13 down!).

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