There are approximately 150,000 stray dogs in Istanbul and surrounding areas.
Religious Stigma: Most practicing Muslims do not keep dogs as pets because they are generally considered unclean. Also, Muslims – who make up 99 percent of the population in Turkey – believe that angels will not visit a home that contains a dog. According to Sunni tradition – which accounts for 85 percent of the Muslim world – the prophet Muhammad reportedly did not like dogs, so people of that culture generally stay away from taking them in as pets. Islam instructs its followers to take care of all creatures, and so many people feel compelled to offer a bit of food, and fresh water, to the strays that live around the city. (Lorena F. Aspe-Northern University)
Poor Unfortunate Souls: "Great Dog Massacre of 1910," an event embedded in the city’s folklore. Ottoman authorities rounded up most of Istanbul’s 60,000 stray dogs and dumped them on the deserted island of Sivriada, a tooth of rock that lies in the nearby Marmara Sea. The dogs slowly starved to death.
Modernizers wanted to transform Istanbul Alongside promoting constitutionalism, secularization, and nationalism, they wanted to rid Istanbul of stray dogs, which they saw as symbols of a disorderly and backward urban society.
Attacking the dogs went hand-in-hand with attacking religion and superstition: dogs were reportedly treated better in religious areas and local folklore had it that when dogs were treated badly, disaster would soon strike the city. Modern Istanbul would be free of such superstitions, as well as dog shit, dog-borne diseases (such as rabies), and barking. Once cleansed of these unsavoury elements, the officials hoped, it would be clean, rationally planned and productive: no longer would barking disturb the sleep of tired urbanites who had to work in the morning.
Stray dogs represented dirt, disease and danger. For their city to progress, the dogs had to go. But they did not succeed in eradicating dogs from Istanbul, despite repeated poisoning campaigns, such as the gassing of over 5,000 dogs in 1933 and 1934. Stray dogs therefore remain part of the city today and look set to continue as sources of controversy, targets of “cleansing” campaigns, and focal points of compassion and fascination (Chris Pearson, University of Liverpool).
New Law Developments:
Authorities say the dogs and cats will be fed and cared for at the new "habitat parks" situated on city outskirts, where they will be visited by school children and available for adoption.
"The proposed law aims to make animals live," the Ministry of Forestry and Water, which drafted the bill, said in a statement last month. "The aim is to prevent bad treatment of animals, clarify institutional responsibilities, and to strengthen the mechanisms of animal ownership.”
Currently Turkey's strays are rounded up by municipal authorities, who generally vaccinate and spay or neuter them before releasing them back onto the streets with ear tags.
Animal rights activists are suspicious of government motives. (Alexander Christian-Miller)
What about their health? Noticeable on the strays of the streets are plastic yellow or metal tag punched through the the dog’s ear showing the “neuter – vaccinate – release.” tactic implemented by the Sahipsiz Hayvanlari Koruma Dernegi Shelter in order help control the population and spread of rabies. Turkish government has made it a law for municipalities to neuter and release dogs (but there are obviously very sad cases wherein dogs are taken to vile municipal shelters)
They are Citizens too:
Street animals have been a part of Turkish culture for generations, and many Istanbul residents believe they have as much right to inhabit the streets as humans.
In the central Beyoglu district, a shopping and nightlife hub popular with tourists, stray dogs and cats are a fixture of the crowded, narrow streets. They are fed and often groomed by local businesses and residents. Some even become local celebrities such as Nazli, who was referenced in a few articles online but I found this one.
“Everyone loves her,” says Kubilay Bircan a café worker on Hazzo Pulo Passage, where Nazli often sleeps at night. “The shopkeepers feed her with different things: fish and meat mainly. We all take care of her,” he says.
Four years ago, local tradesmen, concerned about the length of her toe nails, wrestled Nazli to the ground so a veterinarian could clip them, recalls Rita Cindoyan, a shopkeeper in the passage. “You couldn’t just take [Nazli] to a new place because she has been here all her life and she is looked after,” she says.
At Coskun butcher’s shop in the nearby Fish Bazaar, where Nazli is better known as Zehra, manager Ibrahim Ersoy is blunt about the proposed law.
“We would not let it happen,” he said. “In our language we have a saying that the one who doesn’t love animals can’t love people.” (Alexander Christian-Miller)
Time for Some Information Overload (but hey at least there are pictures!):
"Many Americans, myself included, leave ourselves open to ridicule for spoiling our dogs like surrogate children. If you informed the average Turk that you’d spent thousands of dollars on hip replacement surgery or chemotherapy for your dog, his head would spin like a whirling dervish. The Ottoman Empire fell shortly after the last sultan installed a four-ton crystal chandelier in Dolmabahçe Palace; ours may ultimately topple under the profligacy of spending precious resources on doggie daycare and vet bills.
Like homeless people in American cities, Turkey’s street dogs are a tear in the social fabric, a vexing social problem that resists easy solutions and forces us to reflect on our values. Inured to their suffering, we accord the homeless the fundamental right to live on the street, but in turning a blind eye we overlook how little comfort or security such liberty holds. The same might be said for Istanbul’s dogs."
I will be sure to account for this when I visit. Stay Tuned......