I love Istanbul for so many reasons; one is that there are so many stray cats and dogs living here. I know it is a strange reason to love a city, but the fact that over a million stray cats and dogs live together peacefully in the streets of a city that is home to more than 14 million people is meaningful to me. Let’s get to know more about the stray cats of Istanbul.
If you walk around Istanbul, you will see that stray cats and dogs are part of the urban scene. They are everywhere, and pretty much rule the city. According to this article from Hurriyet Daily News, the special status enjoyed by stray cats in Istanbul “partly derives from Muslim ideas about tolerance.” In fact, an Islamic popular saying goes: “If you’ve killed a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.”
Another reason is that stray cats help to protect the city from rats; even back in the times of the Ottoman Empire when there was a lot of wooden houses. These wooden houses would get a lot of mice and other pests. The stray cats were actually a mechanism to keep these little nuisances out of the houses.
One of the things that struck me most was the absolutely natural presence of stray cats and dogs. Another was the fact that they are welcomed by most locals who don’t consider street animals to be a problem. People in Istanbul not only respect their stray cats and dogs, but they also protect them by providing them with food and water and by building them little houses and shelters in the parks. Many stray cats in Istanbul have even been vaccinated, courtesy of state vets. All of these niceties reflect to me the warmth and kind nature of people in Istanbul.
Needless to say, stray cats and dogs also face difficulties by living in the streets. They suffer from disease, hunger, and dehydration. Sadly, the lifespan of stray cats is not very long. Most of them only get to live between 3 and 6 years, if they are really lucky.
Because of this, in some neighborhoods people use Social Media to band together for the common cause of cat charity. For instance, this Facebook group aims to help people in Beşiktaş to organize the maintenance of all stray cats in Abbasağa Park. Cihangir… Cools for Cats is another network that has been helping stray cats and other stray animals in the area of Cihangir since 2011.
In September 2012, when I was visiting Istanbul for the second time, I witnessed several thousand people marching through Istanbul in protest. They were against a draft law that envisioned the rounding up and relocation of stray cats and dogs to specially created “natural habitat parks.” Animal rights activists were outraged and didn’t trust the Government’s goodwill, since they were reminded of a similar move in 1910. Back on those days, around 60,000 street dogs were deported to an island in the Sea of Marmara where they ended up eating each other. According to the records, residents on Istanbul could hear the dogs howl in agony due to starvation.
Animal activists succeeded in getting the law set aside. Thanks to this, we can still enjoy the presence and company of stray cats in Istanbul. Since they are used to locals, you will be surprised at how friendly they are!
To conclude this post, I would like to mention a fine initiative that the Turkish company Pugedon has recently started in the streets of Istanbul. They have launched a project that combines recycling and stray animal care. As the following video shows, the company has introduced a plastic recycling device that releases a fixed ratio of kibbles every time a bottle is recycled. The Pugedon machines could increase recycling and provide food and water to the pets of Istanbul while at the same time waking up our social awareness and humanity.