What is life like for dogs on the street in Turkey?
There are several million stray animals on the streets of Turkey.
In addition to those dogs who are born on the streets, every day more dogs are abandoned around the country’s cities. Most abandoned dogs are pure breed dogs whose breeds have become fashionable to be sold in pet shops as puppies and whose owners have grown bored of them once they have grown out of their cute, fluffy, puppy size.
Once on the streets, these dogs face a daily struggle to find food, water and shelter in the relentless summers and harsh winters during which temperatures rise to 40 degrees Celsius and drop to below minus 10 degrees Celsius respectively.
On top of the daily struggle to survive, dogs on the street in Turkey are vulnerable to attack, particularly in village communities, by locals who view them as pests and filthy creatures. It is not uncommon to hear of dogs being beaten, poisoned, shot and stabbed by villagers who wish them dead and out of their communities. Unfortunately this type of physical abuse is not the only horror faced by dogs on the streets in Turkey. It is also not uncommon for dogs to be sexually abused by men, either singularly or in groups. Stories of sexual abuse against dogs frequently make the news in the country and are shared around social media by native animal activists. In spite of this, the perpetrators suffer little to no consequence, yet the dogs are sometimes killed during the act, left with traumatic injuries and mentally scarred by the experience.
Still, this is not the end of the worries of the Turkish street dog. They also are vulnerable to dogcatchers from municipal shelters. Locals in communities where dogs are not welcome in Turkey (generally all communities in the more remote regions or the regions with less influence from tourism) often call the local authorities to ask for the street dogs to be removed from their area. These people do not always think that this is a bad thing for the dogs – there are some who are not educated on the operation of the country’s municipal shelters and the mindset of those people that work in them. They do not know that they would be more aptly labelled “death camps” and that the dogcatchers are no friends to animals.
What do the dogcatchers do?
What if the dogs make it to the “shelters”?
Local authorities in Turkey must provide these “shelters”, which are literally translated as “Temporary Animal Hospitals” to provide the dogs with food, water and veterinary care if needed. However the “shelters” are not run at all in accordance with this intended purpose. Instead, for all intents and purposes, these “shelters” are prisons for animals. Once dogs are collected by dogcatchers and put into a municipal “shelter”, one of three things happens to them: (A) they die of disease and/or starvation; (B) they are thrown into a van, driven up into a remote mountain range and dumped to starve in a place where there is no access to food and water and where, in the summer and winter, they face extreme temperatures; or (C) if they are lucky, they are euthanized.
There are paid vets on site at all of these “shelters” but generally they are merely a trophy. They do not actually help the animals. Dogs will lie around on the floor at these “shelters” dying of disease, infection and injuries and vets will not intervene. Often these “shelters” will stockpile medicines and food in cupboards rather than giving it to the animals. Animal activists have also shared stories of other abuse in these “shelters”, including forced dog fights or loading puppies into cages with adult dogs who kill them.
There are some local authorities that do operate better. They will proactively take dogs to veterinary clinics where they organise for them to be spayed or neutered and given the rabies vaccine. A tag is then stapled to the dogs’ ears to signify that they have been treated and they are then released back on the streets. However, this is the minority, not the majority.
The majority of people in Turkey do not actively spay and neuter animals. The veterinary profession generally refuses to spay or neuter an animal unless they are at least 12 months old and, even then, they will only spay female animals. They do not agree with neutering male animals. There is a lot of work to do in Turkey to promote the benefits of trap, neuter and release.
Is there anyone on the ground in Turkey to help the dogs?
There are some exceptionally kind and dedicated volunteers who will raise money themselves to buy food for street animals and then spend time each day driving around to ensure that as many as possible of the street animals in their region get a meal and a drink. In addition to this, if they come across an injured animal that needs help, they will take them to a vet and either raise money for their treatment or contact a charity like Angels for Animals Foundation and ask them to take the animal under their wing.
These local volunteers who do their best to protect the dogs and other animals on the street are often threatened and harassed by their fellow countrymen and countrywomen who do not like dogs. Locals will threaten the animals’ safety, threaten the volunteers themselves and clear away any food that volunteers have put out for the animals.
Are some areas of Turkey better than others with their treatment of animals?