Stray Dogs Remain a Concern for Turkish People

by Jessica Stone

Dr. Fischer discussed the week before Thanksgiving break about the sheer number of dogs she saw wandering the streets of Turkey.  I wanted to research why the country is struggling to deter the rampant growth of street dogs that seem to just casually “fit in” and share the city streets with such a large population of people.Stray dogs are part of everyday city life in Istanbul, and many people actually enjoy the free-roaming dogs.

They are part of the city’s culture and tradition, dating back centuries to the Ottoman Empire.

A depiction of stray dogs
A depiction of stray dogs roaming the streets of Istanbul.
Currently, stray dogs are tagged, vaccinated, spaded to protect against rabies and other health issues in the city. Source: Google Images
Currently, stray dogs are tagged, vaccinated, spaded to protect against rabies and other health issues in the city. Source: Google Images

However, large groups of stray dogs sometimes perturb and intimidate people both young and old in Turkey, along with families and small children, as there have been some deaths from feral, rabid dogs.  When giving directions, some people advise to avoid certain routes that have more feral dogs.  Although not many people have encountered an overly aggressive, dogs often keep people up with their nightly barking and scare drivers when they occasionally dart in front of traffic.  However, the potential danger has not thwarted large groups of animal rights protesters not just in Istanbul, but throughout Turkey, from expressing concern of recently proposed legislation on the issue.

In October 2012, the Turkish government’s proposed legislation that has since received much public scrutiny around the world.  According to a Hürriyet Daily News article,  the proposed legislation “…authorizes the removal of all stray animals from the streets, limits the number of pets permitted in homes, and recommends the termination of ‘dangerous’ breeds. Activists fear the regulation will lead to the mass killing of cats and dogs, regardless of whether they are pets or strays.”  Another part of the proposal includes removing dogs from the city and transporting them to areas outside the cities, perhaps in a forested area fenced off, where they will “run free, and they will have a good lifestyle, and will all be looked after.”

But more than 100,000 stray dogs roam the streets of Istanbul.  Can officials really transport so many dogs? Animal rights activists don’t think so.  They say the dogs should be allowed to continue living the way they have for so many years.  Bernd Brunner, a freelance writer in Istanbul, says in a post that the dogs “are used to having people around, and even depend on them, but they don’t live directly with humans.” His post examines dogs’ position in Turkish society….

According to a 2012 CNN article, the “natural habitat parks” described in the proposed legislation would serve as temporary homes for strays when space in animal shelters becomes overcrowded, and until they are adopted, according to the Turkish Forestry and Water Works Ministry.” The article says activists have questioned the government’s credibility on the issue and adamantly oppose the “natural habitat parks,” calling them “animal concentration camps.”  Turkish Forestry Ministry officials have denied various allegations of cruel animal treatment, and insists that dogs will “live a comfortable life” and would receive adequate food and shelter.  Officials insist the law would “ensure that they are protected as best as possible from bad treatment, pain and suffering.”

However, Turkey’s sordid past with stray dogs leaves many animal advocates concerned.  This video from Occupy for Animals examines the disconcerting history of stray dogs in Istanbul.

To summarize the people, in 1910, Turkish sultans decided to transport street dogs to an uninhabited island, where they were left to starve and ultimately resorted to cannibalism of those already deceased.

Interestingly, Turkish people are against euthanasia of dogs and cats for “population control,” whereas in the United States, free-roaming, healthy, unwanted dogs are less-tolerated.  Fortunately, public sentiment about euthanasia of homeless pets has evolved in the last 50 years in the U.S.

According to a CBC interview with Istanbul reporter Dorian Jones, the Turkish government’s strict legislation is most likely based on two things: the Islamic religion’s view toward dogs and the government’s way of pushing toward modernization.  He says the government is treating it as a matter of health provisions and they point to requirements that “all modern cities deal with stray animals.”  Some people point to the fact that the government has Islamic’s roots and dogs for the Islamic faith are considered unclean.  

Despite the long road ahead, thousands of Turkish citizens continue to fight for their beloved street dogs. 



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