Turkey’s Solution for Stray Dogs is to Send Them Far Away, Where They Can’t Survive

More than 100,000 dogs live in the streets of Istanbul, Turkey’s capital, as well as thousands of cats. But it is the dogs, who have been a presence for centuries, who have lately posed a huge dilemma for the city. Last year, Turkey’s Ministry of Forestry and Water proposed a law to send the dogs away to “wildlife parks” on the outskirts of Istanbul. Ahmet Senpolat, an Istanbul-based lawyer who runs Turkey’s Animal Rights Federation (HAYTAP), and other advocates protested and the law was tabled.

Draft Law 1599 was, according to Turkey’s Ministry of Forestry and Water, intended “… to make animals live. The aim is to prevent bad treatment of animals, clarify institutional responsibilities, and to strengthen the mechanisms of animal ownership.”

Animal advocates have argued that the proposed “natural habitat parks” are basically “concentration camps” for animals. Many stray dogs are already living in wooded areas of northeastern Istanbul where they struggle to survive, according to Deutsche Welle. Sending dogs even further away from the city is tantamount to a death sentence as “there will probably not be enough food, and the dogs could hurt each other when they are hungry,” says one volunteer, Semra Tecimen.

She and other advocates also no doubt objected to the proposed law as it eerily recalls an earlier, horrific, incident:

In the late 19th century, Sultan Abdülaziz decreed that the dogs should be rounded up and deported to Hayirsiz, an island of barren, steep cliffs in the Marmara Sea. Sivriada, a tiny island to which Byzantine rulers once banned criminals, made headlines in 1911 when the governor of Istanbul released tens of thousands of dogs there. A yellowed postcard shows hundreds of dogs on the beach; their voices could be heard even at great distances. However, an earthquake that occurred shortly thereafter was taken as a sign of God’s displeasure, and the dogs were brought back.

As Senpolat explains, Istanbul’s dogs are “social animals” who have long lived alongside humans. Some people put out food and sometimes a cardboard bed for them. The dogs (and the cats) also subsist on trash which residents leave out on the curb, though the advent of metal trash containers has made this more difficult. Some dogs are said to understand traffic signals and will stop at red lights.

Keeping dogs as pets is a relatively recent phenomenon in Turkey and those who do tend to prefer pure breeds (who are seen as status symbols) rather than dogs who live on the streets. As one (non-Turkish) resident of Istanbul writes, the dogs are “used to having people around, and even depend on them, but they don’t live directly together with humans.”

Even though the dogs are technically the responsibility of the local government, volunteers like Tecimen routinely haul scraps from restaurants and bakeries and bags of dog food to feed the many who live in Istanbul’s wooded areas. Volunteers also provide private veterinary care for dogs who are seriously ill, often at their own expense as municipality veterinarians only provide basic treatment.

Senpolat says that, rather than doing the local government’s work and caring for the dogs, residents should insist that officials do so. He also urges people to campaign for laws that address the root of the problem, animal smuggling and illegal pet shops:

Animal smugglers only face a fine of a few hundred euros at worst, they continue to bring expensive pure-bred puppies and sell them to pet stores. People often buy the puppies from pet stores, and abandon them when they become too tough to handle.

Without addressing smuggling,  Senpolat says that even the law’s “strict neutering practices” will not be enough to keep Istanbul’s stray animal population under control.

The need to address the root causes of the thousands of dogs in Istanbul is all the more pressing in view of the relationship that has evolved between them and humans over hundreds of years. Simply consigning the dogs to somewhere else is no solution. Cracking down on smuggling and the illegal sales of dogs — and on owners who do not care for their pets and abandon them in the streets — will not solve the problem, either, but at least are steps towards a solution.

Photo via P. Gonzales

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 months ago

thanks for the article.

Valentina R.
Valentina R.4 months ago

Turkey sucks.

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Croweabout a year ago

It is so sad that people are buying dogs from pet stores and then abandoning them, when there are so many street dogs who need a home.

I sure hope they make stricter sentences for people who smuggle in dogs, and for the jerks who put their dogs out on the street.

What I don't understand is if they have “strict neutering practices”, why is there so many dogs and cats???

sonia b.
sonia b.about a year ago

poor men and womans . it´s a shame.justice now

Carrie-Anne Brown
Carrie-Anne Brownabout a year ago

thanks for sharing

Anastasia Z.
Anastasia Z.about a year ago

This is such an awful problem ((

Tricia Hamilton
Tricia Hamilton2 years ago

These people are ignorant. This country should be helping the pet owners instead of punishing the owners and the animals who have no voice,

Syd H.
Syd H.2 years ago

Oh geez, 124,000 land animals are killed each & every second to be put on our plates. 2 to 4 times that much carnage for marine animals.

I've been in Istanbul recently for several months, and they do care about the cats & the dogs much more than in the US. The animals there are neutered & marked so others know. What's happening to those animals in the US? They are rounded up & euthanized. There is no minimum vet care given by the US government!

How many animals enter animal shelters each year? And how many are euthanized?
The HSUS estimates that animal shelters care for 6-8 million dogs and cats every year in the United States, of whom approximately 3-4 million are euthanized.

Glass houses!

Jane R.
Jane R.2 years ago

What a sad story. These poor animals deserve better. They need a forever home with loving people to care for them. What is wrong with this country? I doubt they care much more for human life.

JO MUNZ2 years ago

I strongly believe that we need the animal loving international community to intervene and help these beautiful dogs -- to adopt them out, whether inside Turkey or outside -- get the no-kill animal organizations mobilized and have the world chip in to help in any way we can! Biggest thank you to those individuals in Turkey who genuinely love these dogs and want them rescued and happy! If only you can teach, show your society the beauty of dogs and all they offer! In the meantime, transport as many as you can into loving situations anywhere and everywhere in the world - LET'S HELP THESE DOGS RECEIVE SOME REAL HAPPINESS IN THEIR LIVES! LET'S GET THEM LOVING FOREVER HOMES!