At first glance, it’s hard to make an educated conclusion if vagabond dogs outnumber feral cats in Istanbul– wherever you go, one of them is within a 50 foot radius of you. After a bit of investigation, I discovered that according to the World Health Association there are some 100,000 stray dogs and an unreported but most likely greater number of cats. These animals are more resilient than honey badgers but they look completely vacant of life. There is no spark in their eyes, they move slowly, almost painfully so, and they often sleep in upsettingly sad, stark, and public locations. I saw a dog passed out on a pile of trash at a huge residential construction site, one who found shelter under a car, and several sleeping on a fenced off patch of grass at Topkapi Palace, to name a few makeshift swellings. Call me soft, but thanks to Bob Barker (and I guess, well, the government) we really don’t see stray dogs in the big American cities. The animals are eerily serene, and never once did I see any of them bark, fight, or show any sign of dominance. Rather, they all seemed like gentle, broken giants. Apparently, the Turkish government has made a few unsuccessful attempts to control the dog population, all of which have proved futile. There isn’t enough funding for the whole “catch, spay or neuter, and release” method and so seedy tactics have included but are not limited to feeding the dogs poisoned meat and/or letting them starve to death in “dog shelters” which are actually glorified death camps. Back in 1910, the Ottoman Sultan gathered somewhere around 60,000 dogs and dropped them on a deserted island to die. Kind of harsh, no? The problem is that taking some dogs off the streets only makes it easier for the others to survive. It’s not hard to forage for food on the streets of Istanbul and I’m sure that many upset visitors like myself often give them food scraps. While the dogs are always around, they’re not as prominent as cats, who like to approach diners, enter tourist attractions, sleep on patio furniture, and follow your footsteps in the streets. That said, they are also like the dogs in the regard that they are suuuuuuuper mellow. It’s actually kind of a paradise for cat lovers because every ten feet is a perfectly hilarious portrait of a cat sleeping somewhere absurd or a pack of kittens to play with. They also look quite dapper for being homeless (cats do know how to get their groom on).
When I was debating whether to go to Morocco or Turkey, people who had been to Istanbul marveled about its beauty, culture, welcoming people, so on and so forth, but failed to mention that yes, it is flooded with wild domesticated animals. Just to be the devil’s advocate here: maybe Turkey is actually winning by letting animals not be taken hostage by families? Maybe the Turks feel more comfortable with them around? Maybe the animals, dare I say, like living in the urban jungle even when they appear to have chronic heat exhaustion, and maybe it is simply a part of life there and better to let them be than eradicate hundreds of thousands of animals for another pointless population reduction? Call it reckless, but I’m oddly not convinced that this is a problem that needs to be solved.
Just please, don’t get bitten.