People in Turkey have had a special reverance for their dogs since the days of the Ottoman Empire. Dogs in Istanbul even have “resident rights.” Correspondent Julia Rooke finds out what life is really like for the Turkish canine.
This text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI’s THE WORLD:
LISA MULLINS: (…) Islamic countries aren’t known for their love of pets. Many Muslims believe that the Koran forbids them to get close to domestic animals. But in Turkey, people have been happy to share their streets and terraces with dogs since Ottoman times. In fact, since 2006 dogs in Istanbul have had “resident rights” enshrined in law. Julia Rooke joined the pack to find out what life is really like for the Turkish canine.
JULIA ROOKE: This is the neighborhood of Kustepe. It’s poor and lots of people here are unemployed. It’s ethnically diverse. Residents also tell me there are 15 street dogs living off the main square. Gokmen is a gruff looking guy in his 30s, with a heart of gold. He feeds the dogs chicken and sausages. He can’t help himself.
GOKMEN: It’s a kind of sickness. I love them. I always have dogs. After all, they are animals who cannot talk. If we feed them, they survive. If you do not, they would get sick and die. They know each and every one of us. So, once it’s dark they would not let any stranger into the neighborhood.
ROOKE: But the dog thing is more than just security. Across the Bospherous is the bustling neighborhood of Cengelcoy. It’s full of well to do Turkish business people, waterside cafes and boutiques. And it’s clear that caring for street dogs has become, well, trendy. So there’s a dog here lying on the street. A huge dog and somebody’s built it a house. There’s a dog kennel there. I just couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a prefect wooden kennel, its owner a proud rather overweight indolent white Labrador. There’s a lady who’s just come out of the flower shop who’s wearing a head scarf and she’s smiling. Did you build that kennel?
FEMALE SPEAKER: No, there’s an architect living there. She paid for it.
ROOKE: While having a pure-bred Rottweiler or German shepherd is becoming fashionable in Turkey, the traditional antipathy many Muslims hold towards dogs, remains. Even those who love dogs won’t allow them into the house. Because some say the Koran tells them that domestic pets are “haram.” Unclean, forbidden. But Turks also argue that the Prophet Mohammed loved animals. Hence the confusion. Every year the dogs are rounded up and caged in shelters like this one. They’re vaccinated, neutered and given an electronic tag. By law the authorities aren’t allowed to put the dogs to sleep. They must be returned to the exact spot where they were found. Dr. Mushin Ozturk is Istanbul’s deputy chief vet.
MUSHIN OZTURK: Some dogs are adopted. Between 20 and 30 each month. We take the rest back to the street where we found them. That’s their territory. We have to do this by law.
ROOKE: There are an estimated 100,000 dogs in Istanbul. Maybe more. That’s several dogs for every street. And there are hundreds more left to rot outside the city. The Bolluca forest on the outskirts of Istanbul is miles of wood and barren scrub land. As we approach dozens of dogs rush towards us. Polite, friendly, but ravenous. You can hear them crunching the chicken bones we brought. I was accompanied by Cenk Kara-yaz-gan and Cargi Sert from Lets Adopt, n animal rights group which campaigns for Turkish dogs to be given a home.
CARGI SERT: We just saw a Pit Bull on the way, on the side, we have Pit Bulls. There was a German Shepherd. They’re mixed breeds, but we saved a terrier from here. Pure breed. There are Goldens.
ROOKE: Golden Retrievers.
SERT: Golden Retrievers and Labradors.
ROOKE: So how did these dogs get here?
SERT: Some, they were domesticated pets. When they get old or they get sick or [INDISCERNIBLE], their owners do not want them and they take them to shelters and shelters just dump them here. But some say once there are puppies. They are born here and they just grow up here and they live as long as they can.
ROOKE: Only the fittest can survive.
CENT KARA-YAZ-GAN: One attacked a puppy and the mother protected the puppy.
ROOKE: But not all the dogs are protected by their mothers, friendly neighbors or the authorities. Two years ago, in a nearby forest, Lets Adopt say they uncovered a mass grave, showing that Turkey has a long way to go in protecting Man’s Best Friend.
by: Julia Rooke in Istanbul.
PRI’s THE WORLD, September 16th, 2010