A year ago, I had the honour to be on Happy Cow‘s blog, and their piece is really very beautifully written. Only now I thought that I shall pass it on here too.
I have been a volunteer ambassador for Happy Cow since the beginning of my transition to veganism (2016). Happy Cow has been very helpful throughout my travels, as a tool, I must admit that and I have actually seen places thanks to the navigation through the application – in order to find vegan food! I have been an ambassador for Athens, Ioannina, Lefkada, Thessaloniki, Cadiz and since 2021 I am for Chalkida, but basically I do the whole Evia island. I am very happy each time I give stickers to shop owners, who get thrilled by the idea of being represented on Happy Cow too.
So, here it is:
The Happy Cowmunity boasts over 540 city ambassadors around the world! From London to Bangkok and everywhere in between, our stellar HappyCow ambassadors know the best vegan eats in town. This month, we’re spotlighting Elisabeth Dimitras from Chalkida, Evia, Greece. Dimitras is a true caregiver to both human and non-human animals—she is someone we look up to during this season of giving. We are honored to share her story and hope it motivates others to volunteer their time and skills to those in need this holiday and beyond.
The lightbulb moment
Like so many, Dimitras grew up loving and eating animals. She told us that she was always rescuing stray dogs and cats as a child, and as she got older, she’d crowdfund to pay for injured animals’ operations. All the while, she didn’t make the connection between the animals on her plate and the animals she helped to rescue and rehome.
After attending university for mathematics and realizing her true calling wasn’t as a mathematician, but as an animal caregiver, she made a hard pivot and started volunteering at a zoo. While she shuns zoos now for their exploitation of animals, she informed us, “Back then I was blind enough to think that zoos are needed for biodiversity conservation. After some months over there, I realized that it’s just an industry making profit out of animal exploitation.”
Dimitras moved on to volunteering in wildlife conservation centers, working with marine turtles, seals, and birds. She obtained a masters in Biodiversity Conservation and moved on to Holland to become an animal caretaker for primates and small mammals through the European Volunteer Service. She told us it was a “life-changing experience.”
All the while, Dimitras changed her diet thanks to an eye-opening realization first brought on by the disturbing documentary Earthlings, followed by Forks Over Knives and Cowspiracy a few years later. She vowed to go vegetarian within the first twenty minutes of Earthings, and she became fully vegan by 2016.
“I needed to watch shocking documentaries in order to make the connection, to educate myself, and to learn the truth that is very well hidden by the animal agriculture industry,” she stated.
The giving spirit
Dimitras has dedicated her life to caring for non-human animals. Following the experience in Holland, she volunteered at a farm sanctuary in Madrid and most recently at Donkeysland—a sanctuary in Koropi, Greece. Her ultimate goal is to run a self-sustaining microsanctuary on the land she recently purchased and live off the grid. This isn’t just a pipedream—she’s planned it out and knows what to do to make it happen. Dimitras is looking into permaculture courses, seeking advice from experts on the subject of sustainability, and working an emergency evacuation plan in case of a wildfire. Dimitras’ sanctuary will be private and not open to the public. “I believe that rescued animals should be living their lives unbothered by humans,” she advocated. “Visitors tend to not know nor respect the boundaries, so they end up stressing the animals.”
When asked about her volunteer work, Dimitras explained, “Non-human animals are amazing. They are giving us so many lessons and the most important is how to be present. Observing them is meditative. Also, my mental health issues are getting better while being in contact with these magnificent souls. I forget the ugliness of the world—how wrong everything is around me—and I enjoy the purity of the moment. We think that we rescue them, but the truth is, they rescue us.”
How to give back
As much peace as Dimitras gets from helping others, she doesn’t sugar coat the effort. “Let’s be honest though, this volunteer job is basically cleaning shit and a very hard job. You need to really love them in order to do it. It’s not a walk in the forest.” She makes it clear that caring for non-human animals is a commitment, but she also hopes more people would volunteer their time. It’s so needed.
While farm and wildlife sanctuaries exist all over the world, there are other ways to get involved for those who can’t easily access these operations. Those who live in urban centers can look for other opportunities that propel the vegan message, such as Food Not Bombs chapters or other organizations that provide vegan meals to those in need. Dimitras personally volunteers for Genesis Hellas – a humanitarian NGO in Greece that prepares vegan food to deliver to the homeless.
How she uses HappyCow: I explore the world via HappyCow. I first see where I can get myself nice vegan food and based on that, I arrange my travels.
Must-visit restaurant in Chalkida: Demetra
What’s on her vegan wishlist: An ethically and sustainably made vegan leather jacket