The stray animal city: Istanbul

This is where stray animals are treated like pets, not pests

sara mahendran, sara's take

Istanbul is a stray animal city. The animals roam freely and are happy. They aren’t exterminated by the authorities and they aren’t shunned by people either. In fact, they’re given so much affection and love.

In theory, a city that gives stray animals this much love, freedom and food should have literally gone to the dogs by now. It should be dirty, smelly and kinda disastrous. But it isn’t.

I had some questions about how this was possible. After doing a little bit of research and talking to a bunch of locals to verify the facts, this is what I learned!

1. How does Istanbul stay clean?

sara mahendran, sara's take

There are street cleaners who clean up poop, but they’re not everywhere all the time. So there are citizens who clean up the poop themselves, and they’re a big reason why the city stays clean.

2. What about personal hygiene and diseases?

sara mahendran, sara's take

I never got sick from touching stray animals. Maybe because my hands have always been equally dirty from touching door handles, poles on public transport, etc and I’m used to that? I dunno. I just wash my hands now and then and I’m fine.

sara mahendran, sara's take

And as for diseases like rabies, you’ll know which dogs are okay to pet as the ones that have been vaccinated by the government are tagged on the ear.

3. How do animals deal during winter time?

sara mahendran, sara's take

People start building more homes for animals. They make do with what materials they have.

sara mahendran, sara's take

A lot of the houses are makeshift, made from plastic tarps, plastic boards, wooden planks, etc. But that’s so much better than being out in the cold!

Some people also open their mosques to stray animals so they can stay warm indoors.

4. Isn’t it expensive to take care of the strays?

sara mahendran, sara's take

Oh it is. Every time animals get sick or injured, it’s the locals who pay out of their own pockets to have them treated at the vet.

I’m blown away by the generosity of people here. Even when they don’t have much to give, they give anyway.

5. What about overcrowding? 

sara mahendran, sara's take

The animal population is kept in control by the government through a programme called Trap, Neuter, Return. The government has set aside a small budget for this, and volunteer vets help out too.

Don’t worry, it’s not gonna wipe out the strays! There are so many, it’s hard to keep track of them all (especially when a cat can give birth to about 12 kittens a year).

What the programme has done though, is help reduce the animal population to what it is now!

6. Why in Istanbul and not elsewhere?

sara mahendran, sara's take

This is something I don’t have the full answer to.

I’m thinking, maybe it’s because of the large community of serious animal lovers there. (There were 17,000 signatures on a petition to erect a statue of a cat that passed away).

And another reason is definitely the animal protection law there, which was created t0 “ensure that animals are afforded a comfortable life and receive good and proper treatment … and to prevent all types of cruel treatment.”

sara mahendran, sara's take

These are just some of the factors that contributed to it. And I’m only scratching the surface as a traveller who’s been in Istanbul for a week.

But if there’s anything I’m certain of now, it’s possible for an entire city to work together on a common cause.

And this gives me some hope.