Holiday romance is now puppy love as family rehomes little Greek dog who stole their hearts
Mum and daughter adopt stray they rescued while on a break to Corfu
It's a holiday romance with a difference.
Belfast woman Audrey Lowndes (48) and her daughter Olivia (13) fell in love with a stray dog in Greece and gave her a home here in Northern Ireland.
They met the small, undernourished pooch while on a two-week holiday on the island of Corfu.
"On our second night we saw all these dogs chasing her and biting her because she was in heat," Audrey said. "She jumped up on Olivia's knee and hid behind her chair."
Even though they weren't allowed to keep her in the hotel, they took her in "because she was so thin, so thirsty, so sad and so tired", recalled Audrey, adding: "Our hearts just broke."
They named the one-year-old dog Melitsa after the village they were staying in, and an online search found a shelter for stray dogs called CARE. It couldn't pick her up that night, so they kept her in their room until the next day.
When someone did arrive to pick up Melitsa Audrey, a housekeeper, said it was hard to see the pup go: "It absolutely broke my heart to see her in the van."
CARE rescues strays from around the island, washing and feeding them, giving them full check-ups and necessary medical treatment. And to lower the number of unwanted puppies, it also spays or neuters them.
Because space is limited at the shelter, however, it can't keep all the dogs which come through. It tries to rehome them, but the ones it can't end up back on the streets.
Leaving Melitsa to be potentially homeless again was unbearable for Audrey, but she didn't think there was anything she could do about it.
She told the woman from CARE that if she was at home, she would adopt Melitsa in a heartbeat. She didn't think she would be able to adopt her because they were in Greece.
But the woman told her it was possible.
CARE has a programme that rehomes dogs to places all over Europe. Potential adopters have to pay for a €90 dog passport and £400 for injections, tests and transportation so that the dogs are safe to be brought out of Greece. "It's money well spent," said Audrey.
"There was no way we could leave her behind. She would melt your heart.
"She's the most lovable wee dog you've ever seen."
She added that while there were dogs here in need of homes, the conditions in Greece were too terrible to have left Melitsa there. "Believe it or not, here in Northern Ireland, compared to how they're living there (in Greece), this is paradise."
Once the paperwork and the payments are sorted, the charity transports the adopted animals to their new owners.
They have a series of stops across Europe and the UK where adopters pick up their dogs. The last stop on the route is Gretna Green. Three weeks after they had last seen her, Audrey and Olivia took the ferry and drove for three hours to pick up Melitsa on Thursday. "As soon as she saw us she remembered us," Audrey said. The man who delivered Melitsa told her: "I knew it was you because of the way she was getting on."
Audrey and Olivia already have a dog named Lola, who they "love like a child". Lola and Melitsa met on Thursday night and immediately clicked.
"The two of them instantly got on and started playing," said Audery. She attributed the happy outcome to CARE.
"Without them, this would never have happened."