Around the world, 2011 was the year the dog barked, and no one did it better than Loukanikos, or Sausage, the Greek Riot Dog. Honored with his own photo gallery in Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" issue, Sausage is finally getting his due.
This stray yellow mutt resides in Syntagma Square in central Athens, at the heart of the protest action. Sausage first turned up on the scene a few years ago, whenever Greek citizens got together for a protest over one issue or another, soon becoming a familiar, albeit furry face among a regular group of agitators.
But Sausage didn't hit the big time until the anti-austerity riots of June, 2011, winning the hearts of ordinary Greek citizens and observers the world over. Whenever there was a standoff between protestors and riot police, Sausage would race to the head of the pack, barking at police and biting their ankles of anyone who dared get too close to his herd of fellow oppressed orators. Through his tail-wagging tenacity, Sausage became an overnight YouTube sensation. The protestors adored him, because it appeared as if he understood what was going and was standing firmly by them -- on all fours.
Greek officials now call Sausage a "symbol of freedom." But I like to think of this proletarian pup as a metaphor for all those who strive to be heard. And if Sausage could speak, this is what he'd say:
My name is Loukanikos, which refers to that delicious Greek sausage made from pork and lamb that's one of my favorite snacks. Since 2006, I have officially been known by the Athens municipality stray dog service as Dog Number 1842. But I answer to Sausage.
Since I was a pup, I've been living in the center of Athens. It's been a good life so far. Compared with other countries, Greece's policy towards homeless animals like me has been pretty progressive. While most countries put down dogs in my circumstances, the Greek government has been cleaning us up, giving us collars and paying for all of our vaccines and health care. They even give us food! I love food.
Of course, I don't like everything the government does. For one thing, I don't care for the microchip under my skin. It's too "Big Brother." Officials can track me, and there's a number on my dog tag that humans can call if I am in trouble, or causing trouble. (Okay, so I may have nipped someone I didn't like the smell of once or twice.) The whole tracking thing goes against my creed as a free-spirited canine. And let's not forget the greatest insult of all. Being neutered really cuts down on what is already a pretty short list of pleasures.
But even all of this was tolerable as long as the government kept me in kibble and I was left in peace to sun myself on the marble slabs of Syntagma Square. Then the humans started talking about austerity measures. I knew this could not be good for me or the 2,000 other mongrels who might be rounded up and slaughtered if the government ever decided to cut its stray dog program.
I'd already noticed times were getting tougher for my fellow Greek humans when the snacks of human food I used to supplement my government rations were getting scarcer. Where I was once guaranteed a delicious meal of leftover souvlakis and gyros from the back of the cafes dotted around the square, many of these businesses were closing shop, or doing a much smaller trade. The scraps just weren't what they used to be. And when humans are feeling bitter and downtrodden, they are much less inclined to throw a bone, or a slice of spanakopita, to a mutt like me.
But suddenly, last summer, the mood started to shift. Ever since I can remember, Athens' street life would liven up with the odd riot or protest, and it was always great fun. I never understood exactly what the issues were because, well, I'm just a dog. But I enjoyed barking. It seemed to help.
Many of the protestors were scruffy, like me and, when I came by for a sniff, they always had a friendly word, an ear scratch, or a snack for yours truly. As far as I am concerned they were good people. Whenever it looked like one of my humans was in for a hard time I figured I should give something back and show my support to the people who struggle to take care of each other. I just had to be there.
The clashes in June 2011 were like nothing I'd ever seen in all of my dog years. At first, it was like a festival, with music, dancing and picnics. The protesting humans were angry about something, but at least they were in a good mood with each other, chatting away and joking, and throwing old Sausage many tasty morsels. Soon the crowd grew, until there were thousands of humans in the square and the riot police were out in full force. The officers looked menacing with their helmets and shields. They carried those cool-looking sticks that they wouldn't let me play fetch with. Not once.
It's not that I have anything against the cops. When they are off duty they are just the same as any other human, and some are even quite kind. During the riots, a few would even nudge me gently out of the way when I was underfoot and in danger of getting trod upon. But I chose the side of the protesters. In a game of chase, any self-respecting dog has to pick a side.
At one point the riot police formed a face off against my pack, whose only defense was to link their arms together and form a solid human mass. There were several meters between the two groups, and I was free to go back and forth between the two sides, barking at the police and biting their exposed calves with impunity. Their hands were full, and nobody dared touch Sausage the Riot Dog!
The protesting humans were shouting slogans, so of course I join in:
"No, to the new memorandum!"
"We won't pay!"
"They are sucking your blood!"
Together, we delivered a powerful message.
Suddenly, the men with the masks threw something into the crowd that let off a lot of smoke. The stuff made me sneeze, but the gas cloud hovered just above me, so I was okay. My friends were choking and their eyes were tearing. If only those poor humans could have learned to walk on all fours like me, they might have avoided all that suffering.
Things have simmered down since those heady days of protests and riots. Yet some things have changed for the better. No, business around the square isn't back to where it was, but the humans seem more confident somehow. And they treat me like a national hero. I never have to beg or scavenge for scraps like I used to. You might even say Sausage is getting a little fat. It's as if I have been adopted as Athens' favorite citizen.
I'm not sure exactly what those nice humans have accomplished, and maybe they don't know yet themselves. But, as one who's howled at the moon many times, I've learned that someone just might be listening. And that can start lots of other people noticing and talking and speaking up for themselves. Sometimes you just need to bark and get things off your chest. Whether you are canine or human, there comes a time when you just need to be heard.