(Featured image: In Urgup, me with the most cheerful, gorgeous, fun loving puppy ever, despite having just gotten kicked by the tea shop owner for being too close to his property. I just had to pick her up.)
I recently visited Turkey, from mid May to June 2016, after hearing what the Turkish have done with their large stray population. My route was around the western region, the first stop being Izmir, the second biggest city in Turkey, followed by Pamukkale, Sirince, Selcuk, Efesus, Bodrum, Antalya, Urgup, Goreme, Mustafapasha, Avanos, the capital city of Ankara, and lastly Istanbul, the largest city.
I had already heard of how strays are sterilised by the government before my trip. I saw for myself how dogs in big cities like Izmir, Ankara and Istanbul looked healthy. My route in those cities followed the major tourist spots, and there, I did not see puppies. The stray dogs I sighted always had ear tags, the sign of a fixed dog. The dogs were huge, and the crowds didn’t seem to mind their presence as they made their way around.
Please note that what I saw is what appears on the surface. There have been many great efforts for animal welfare in Turkey, but there are also suspicions of misconduct behind the scenes, and that would be another story. If you are interested, here are some links giving more detailed information:
The dogs were not afraid with people, a good sign that the strays suffered relatively few cruelty incidents. However, there were sad individuals. People did not hurt them, but were often indifferent, and would shoo the dogs if they got too close. The dogs wanted to get to know people, but people didn’t want to know them. The dogs felt lonely and unloved. It was easy to tell, since making eye contact was enough for the dogs to know I did want to get to know them. Calling was unnecessary. With eye contact alone, they came to me.
They were friendly, and huge. Nevertheless, they acted like puppies. They love it when you give them strokes. Talk to them, and they will eventually lay on their back enjoying your presence. It is hard to say good bye to them knowing you have no idea what will happen to them in the future.
I saw restaurant staff come from their building and give the dogs scraps, and I also saw a really well fed dog outside a meat store. For those individuals, I felt peace.
The stray dogs in other, smaller cities were not as healthy as those in big cities like Izmir, Ankara, or Instanbul. Often they were thin, and sometimes had infections around their ear tags. Some were clearly not sterilized, because I still met puppies. But they were equally friendly. People were not happy about their presence there either. They didn’t harm the dogs, but they would tell them to go away if any dogs got too near.
The video below shows a pack of friendly stray dogs I met in a public park in Avanos. They were huge, and some adults had ear tags, but there were puppies as well. One of them had an infection around his eartag. All it took was making myself available and opening up to them, and the whole pack wanted to play with me, jumping on me and following me everywhere. They escorted me to my car as I said goodbye.
Cats were in better condition than the dogs. Cat food and water bowls were left on the street and often half full. I didn’t always see the bowls, but would find them at random in both big and small cities. I could only identify earmarks on the cats I got to see up close, but it seemed like the cities had successfully applied cat sterilisation drives as well. I can’t remember meeting any small kittens, but I did sight one or two teen cats. Like the dogs, the cats were also at ease with humans, and were friendly as well. I found many cats living inside historical and touristic sites.
Although things look much better for dogs and cats in Turkey than where I am from in Indonesia, there are so, so many areas to be improved. The stray population’s growth is currently halted, to some degree, but still there must be attention given to the existing unfixed individuals. Their welfare is still far from being acceptable, as they are now merely surviving on the street. Education is even more important, to demonstrate and promote compassionate ways for humans and strays to coexist.
Below is a great link for more extensive coverage on Turkey’s strays: