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Dogs In Turkey

 

Turkey is a country that is divided and polarised on many topics, and the subject of (stray) dogs is no exception.

On the one hand, there is a strong and very vocal movement of animal lovers who are constantly fighting for the protection of animals’ rights. There is no national animal welfare organisation, but in the absence of this, there is an active rescue scene with many small rescue groups and individual rescuers. Local rescuers work hard to carry out difficult rescue missions, saving dogs in terrible states from horrendous conditions. However, without big, powerful rescue organisations, making a fundamental difference to the stray dog overpopulation problem is difficult. Government TNR programmes are inadequate, private TNR programmes are practically non-existent, and vet clinics are forbidden from offering discounts to treat or neuter street dogs. Rescue groups struggle to keep up with the constant influx of more dogs needing help, and find it difficult to find homes for the dogs they have saved. Not many people in Turkey are open to having a dog in the house, and those who are usually want a pedigree breed. Often, the dogs local groups have rescued end up having to be released back onto the streets because no-one wants them.

Many people in Turkey sympathise with the plight of street dogs. Lots of people leave out bowls of water and food on the pavements for the street animals. The frequent cases of animals being abused make headlines and spark national outrage. However, few people take action when they see an animal in need, and even fewer would ever considering bringing a stray animal into their home.

Bringing a dog into the home is a controversial issue in Turkey. Turkish culture places huge importance on cleanliness and Turkish people like their homes to be spotless, almost sterile. Dog hair makes many people uncomfortable, and the belief that inhaling dog or cat fur is dangerous for your health is widely accepted as a scientific fact. Many conservative, religious people also believe that having dogs in any space used for praying (including the house) is haram (forbidden according to Islamic law). A local prophet once proclaimed that angels will refuse to enter a household with dogs in it, a belief still held by conservative people around Turkey.

A large portion of the Turkish population actively dislikes stray animals and are scared of (stray) dogs. Having women scream out in terror and cross the road just because there is a dog walking along the pavement is not unusual. Stray dogs are seen by many as dangerous and a nuisance, a pest. There are increasingly frequent calls, echoed by the president, for all stray dogs to be rounded up and locked up in the government shelters.

The conditions in government shelters in Turkey are terrible and dogs are usually safer on the streets than in the shelters. In municipality shelters, dogs are usually put together in big groups without intervention if fights break out.  There are no quarantine policies, and the kennels are never cleaned properly (only hosed down with water), so the shelters are a hotbed for viral diseases. Our estimate is that 90% of young dogs that enter a government shelter never make it out alive. Shelters also don’t have the facilities to treat injured or sick dogs, so these dogs are often left to die. Shelter staff often aren’t animal lovers, and there have been cases of severe animal abuse by staff in shelters across Turkey.

Animal lovers frequently clash with members of the population that don’t like strays. Volunteers who leave out food and water or make-shift homes for street dogs and cats frequently find that their feeding stations have been maliciously destroyed, and it is also common for them to be harassed and shouted and sworn at for feeding street animals.

After years of efforts and pressure from activists and rescuers, the Turkish government finally passed an animal rights law in 2021. This law finally offered some protection to animals in Turkey, but isn’t adequately enforced and animal abusers often get off with light sentences. Keeping dogs chained up outdoors in the heat without proper shelter or food is still very common, and authorities do not intervene in cases like this.

Advocates for animal rights are gaining more and more strength and influence, but Turkey still has a long way to go before it can be a safe place for stray dogs, and even longer to go before it can be place were all dogs can find a home.

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