When the volunteer vet spotted the long-haired, one-eyed mutt sitting all alone at the harbor on the small Greek island, she figured he was waiting for his fisherman-owner to return with the day's catch.


But then the next day the vet watched the same gray pooch trotting store-to-store, getting handouts from employees' lunches, mostly bits of sandwiches.

That dog could do with a good haircut, she thought. It took her only a single dog biscuit to persuade the friendly mutt into her all-terrain vehicle. She took him to her makeshift clinic set up in a coastal garage and there she bathed him, brushed him, and gave his still-matted fur a thorough clipping. Then she treated him to a flea and tick treatment.

Hours later, she returned the cleaned-up version of the harbor hound back to his old haunts on the remote Greek island of Karpathos. She observed him as he visited the fish tavernas  lining the harbor area. At each stop, tourists fed him bits of octopus, swordfish, shrimp or squid from their plates.

Although her days were kept busy neutering stray dogs and cats brought in by volunteers from the island's villages, the vet told me her thoughts often returned to the seafood-loving harbor mutt. She asked in shops and restaurants all along the vicinity of the harbor, but nobody claimed to own such a one-eyed dog.

The vet brought the pooch back to her clinic and got him settled down on blanket with his very own water dish and a dog chew. He appeared to be up in years, so she named him Opi (meaning Gramps in Bavarian dialect of German).

Opi responded favorably to his name and relaxed in his new home, maybe not understanding it could only be a temporary arrangement. In two weeks, the volunteer vet was due to return to Germany. During that time, Opi's bad eye got sewn up and salve was applied regularly. A week later, he went under the knife so he wouldn't father any pups.

As the vet was about to leave the island, she asked me if I could adopt Opi, because what he needed most was a real home. She had a look of utter desperation on her face when she asked. I was aware she'd already adopted 13 blind, injured or three-legged critters from our island. Her house and yard in Germany must be full! I understood her predicament well.

It would be quite a challenge, I knew, bringing Opi home with us, where a dozen-plus rescue cats required so much of our attention. Both my husband and I had grown up with dogs in the family, so we decided maybe we could deal with a canine addition to our gang. Both freelance writers, my husband and I work from home, so this allows us plenty of time with our animals. We understood the newcomer wasn't just any dog, but a proud sea dog.

Much to our amazement, Opi accepted the collection of ragtag felines as his friends. He didn't object even when kittens batted at his ears or tried to nurse on his legs. Right away it was clear the abandoned kittens viewed Opi as their hairy pillow. Every night, a few crawled into Opi's wicker basket to settle down for some shut-eye. One delicate orphan kitten named Roo found comfort as she slept atop Opi's back!

Opi soon acquired the nickname Nanny, because problem cats took to him right away and felt comfortable in his presence. Even when his dog basket was literally crawling with kittens, Opi didn't let out a single woofy complaint.

Word got around about our island's unusual kitten-minder. In summers, tourists stop by to take pictures of big-hearted Opi with some of his feline charges. Opi's photo has even made it into a calendar, his 15 minutes of canine fame.

Opi has learned a great deal about being part of a large family. He didn't mind his first collar and quickly learned to walk on a leash. His adjustments went smoother than we'd ever imagined. Some dogs love car rides, others don't. Opi is one who can't wait to go somewhere with us in the car.

The beach is his favorite destination. That's understandable, because, before meeting us, his life was spent within earshot of the waves crashing against he rocks. All year 'round, my husband and I frequent a rocky beach to collect sacks of driftwood and pine cones to burn in our winter fires.

Opi makes the most of each opportunity to run along the coastline and he's an expert at skirting the waves. When he's by the sea, he's in his element.

During the five years Opi has been in our family, we've rescued two younger dogs. We didn't plan it that way, but their youthful presence forces Opi to get out of his basket more often and romp around. He'd acquired a bit too much bulk around the midsection the first year with us, but now he plays with his dog pals and stays trim. The three of them fit side-by-side in the back seat when we drive to the beach. No question about it, Opi is top dog, the guy in charge. He understands the ways of the sea better than any of us. The seaside is in his blood.

Our first beach outing together, Opi watched in disgust as the pair of junior canines raced straight for the sea and started drinking the salty water. They learned their lesson by having sore bellies afterwards and only tried that stunt once. Opi probably could have warned them not to drink the water, but chose to let them find out for themselves.

Lots of dogs are cute, but being cute and smart equals one lucky dog! If Opi is wiser than I am I won't venture to guess, but most of humankind could learn a lot from a pooch who gets along with everybody, large or small.

© 2006 Roberta Beach Jacobson

This story about Opi originally appeared in www.angelanimals.net


Roberta Beach Jacobson is an American writer who makes her home on a remote Greek island. She has ghost-written, translated or contributed to 40 books.  

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