“Good morning, have a great weekend and make it one for the animals around you.” This is what Irene van Klinken posted on Facebook yesterday and probably best describes both her philosophy and her actions.
Irene’s life is summed up in the words of French Nobel Prize winning poet Anatole France: who said that:
How true! I can vouch for that myself. But it is also true in the case of Irene who left her life as a photographer and graphic designer in Holland behind her and came to Greece to find both cause and fulfilment.
Today she lives on Kythira and runs a non-governmental animal welfare group which supports cats and opens minds.
It All Started from a Holiday to Greece
“Ever since I was 12 years old, I felt like I would never fit in in Holland. So I began to travel seeking to find a place where I would feel welcome,” Irene tells The Greek Vibe.
“At first, I thought it was Italy, but I was wrong, I discovered it wasn’t what I was looking for. From there I went to Zakynthos. There I knew it was going to be Greece but not Zakynthos. It didn’t appeal to me. A year later, I went to Skyros but it was too busy for me. And then… I went to Kythira, and yes, this was home,” said says. “I sold everything in Holland in nine days and came to Greece.”
In the 15 years she’s been living on Kythira, Irene has made a difference saving dozens of cats, reducing the stray cat population by neutering and vaccinating, and providing homes to sick or felines with some form of disability, which live at home with her.
Fitting in on Kythira
In that time she has developed 28 feeding stations around the island which she refills twice a week and has also set up a registered “adoptions from a distance” program where one can adopt their own Kythira cat by sending a token sum of money for its support.
Twice a year, Irene also runs an online auction to raise funds.
“I left Holland with a dog who got sick; when she got sick a cat appeared, then another with babies, and at one point I found myself with 17 cats,” she says.
It was only a matter of time before her calling was made clear by the cats themselves.
“Cats choose you and they always have something to tell you,” Irene says. And yes, she too, like many animal lovers in Greece is known as the “crazy Dutch cat lady”.
Changing Attitudes on Kythira
Irene and many like her running cat welfare groups in Greece have done plenty to change the attitudes on Kythira. When I first visited the island in the late 1990s, I remember seeing this sign everywhere. I visited three times with my tiny pet dog Rallou – smaller than a cat – back then, and remember being asked to “remove” the dog from the beach. I decided I would never go back. I had not faced this on any of the islands I had visited until then.
However, Irene says things have changed. “There is a difference. I see a positive change in the behavior towards animals on the island. But this wasn’t the case some 10 years ago. The younger generations are more sensitive to animal welfare issues, she tells The Greek Vibe, adding that there still is a lot to do.
Irene has made it a very conscious choice to focus only on the good things and her relationship to animals helps her steer clear of madness and irrational views.
“I love animals because there is a true connection, there is interaction and respect, animals don’t lie,” she says.
Besides her praiseworthy efforts to protect Kythira cats, Irene has also created a mini-safe haven for other animals such as ostriches, deer, and mules.
In the meantime, she knows people have good intentions but she urges visitors to the island not to feed the cats at tavernas or at hotels. Instead she says, you should get in touch with her and she’ll let you know what you can do to really help. “Not all people like animals,” she reminds.
Touched by Greece!
Guests and friends tell us how they’ve been ‘Touched by Greece’
1) How were you ‘touched by Greece’?
When I first visited Kythira in 2005, I knew this would be home and this has never changed. It was the best thing I could have done. I am self-sustained living in nature.
2) What does Greece mean to you?
Life – home – love.
3) Your favorite place in Greece?
Kythira of course, where else?