Turkey’s Stray Dogs

In May of 2013, a series of violent protests began in Istanbul Turkey and spread through the rest of the country for the majority of that year.  My wife, Jennifer, and I had just spent much of March of that same year traveling through the Western part of Turkey not realizing what was about to occur. We visited Istanbul, Gallipoli, Troy, Ephesus, Kusadasi, Antalya, Cappadocia, Konya, and Ankara (Turkey’s capital). I could write several blogs based on places and events of that trip. I could blog about the cordial and welcoming Turks that we encountered. The delicious local foods that we enjoyed would be another subject. We stood in the theatre where the Apostle Paul spoke. We traveled by bus adjacent to the Silk Road, the ancient trade route linking China to the West. We walked the battlegrounds of the Trojan War at Troy.

But, being a dog owner, I wanted to share with you the special relationship between the Turkish people and the population of stray dogs (and cats) and how they are treated there. I noticed during our trip that there were a noticeable number of homeless dogs…everywhere. Many Turks are quite comfortable with, and even enjoy, having the free-roaming dogs around.
Free-roaming dogs have been documented in Istanbul for several hundred years at least, perhaps longer.  Today, dogs are found most anywhere – even in this patio area of a local restaurant. They are fed by families and business owners daily. Tin bowls for food and water can even be seen along the highways.

There is even a company in Turkey called Pugedon that has created a somewhat unusual but effective way to kill two birds with one stone – their vending machine in Istanbul takes bottles deposited for recycling and dispenses food for the city’s stray dogs.

Our guide told us that there are very few animal shelters throughout Turkey. The strategy instead is a trap-spay/neuter-vaccinate/treat and release program.  Free-roaming dogs are picked up off the streets and taken to local shelters where they are spayed or neutered, vaccinated for rabies and other diseases, treated for minor illnesses, ear-tagged for identification, and then released back to the neighborhood where they were trapped. You can see one of the tagged street dogs in the photograph below.

The most popular dog in Turkey is the Kangal. It is a breed of large livestock guardian dog originating from the Sivas province of Turkey. While the Kangal is often referred to as a sheep dog, it is not a herding dog, but rather a flock guardian that lives with the flock of sheep to actively fend off predators of all sizes. Typically used as protection against wolves, bears, and jackals in its native Turkey. The Kangals we encountered were very social except for the one protecting her pups.

This little guy was living in a market in Cappadocia. He had obviously sustained an injury and was limping. But all the store owners at the market treated him like their very own. I really wanted to bring him home.

During the harsh winter months, Turkish Malls will open their doors to stray dogs. The following photo is from a local newspaper.

If you ever have the chance to visit Turkey during safer times, don’t forget to take some treats with you. These homeless dogs and cats are very friendly and will often approach you for a treat or just a tummy rub.

I hope you enjoy the photos Jennifer took on our trip!

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3 thoughts on “Turkey’s Stray Dogs”

  1. Thank you for this touching story. The pictures are a true indication of the kindness of the Turkish people. They are and will be blessed for their kindness. Thank you again!

    1. Stray cats are also common. Some people leave bowls of food for them.

      A colleague was bitten by a dog; she traced the dog to the German embassy and asked if the dog had all his shots. The reply from the embassy was that this dog was a German citizen, and the embassy was not required to reply.

      knemetnejat@gmail.com

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