Battle to care for Istanbul’s stray animals continues
ISTANBUL – Anadolu AgencyVets and civil society organizations warn that finding solutions for Istanbul’s ever-increasing number of stray cats and dogs, thought to number around one million, requires long-term planning and strategies.
The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s Veterinary Services Directorate officially says Turkey’s largest city of 15-million people is also home to 250,000 stray cats and dogs. However, Istanbul’s Chamber of Veterinary Surgeons says the real number is in fact a lot higher, with dogs numbering 300,000 and cats numbering over 700,000.
The head of the chamber, Professor Murat Arslan, says the numbers are constantly increasing despite work to spay stray animals, warning that ever higher numbers could cause problems.
“Some people are getting quite disturbed as strays are getting more involved in daily life in order to find food,” Arslan said, warning that there was a divide between these locals and animal-lovers who are keen to feed and protect stray animals.
“Neighbors are starting to quarrel over strays,” he added, saying that some citizens complain about noise from the animals while others criticize local municipalities for failing to take adequate care of the strays.
Arslan said the problem cannot be solved by local government administrations alone and recommended “serious work in cooperation between state authorities, associations and veterinary surgeons.”
Earlier this month, Turkey’s first rehabilitation workshop on stray animals was organized by the Istanbul Municipality’s Directorate of Veterinary Services. Authorities from local administrations and from the country’s Agriculture Ministry, as well as vets and experts, discussed the problems of stray animals and suggested solutions.
“One of the main problems is that owners are leaving their animals out on the streets. People should know that owning an animal is a significant responsibility,” said the head of the directorate, Muhammet Nuri Coşkun.
The first legal regulation in Turkey over animal rights came over 10 years ago. In 2004 the country adopted the Animal Protection Law in line with the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals, which designates local governments as responsible for caring for stray animals.
In 2015, the Agriculture Ministry provided local governments with 4.5 million Turkish Liras ($1.58 million) in subsidies to cover the cost of the needs of strays.
Istanbul currently has six temporary “stray animal care facilities,” with a capacity of over 7,500, where strays are provided with nourishment and treatment. They are also neutered and registered before they are owned.
Last year, over 20,000 strays were neutered and nearly 1,000 found a home thanks to the facilities.
However, thousands of others had to be left back at the places where they were first found.
“The number of abandoned animals will fall as more strays are spayed,” Coşkun said, adding that the “trap-spay-return” technique “is the most beneficial method for humans, animals, and the environment.”
Zekiye Köklu, the head of the Ankara-based Animal Rescue Association, agrees with Coşkun, arguing that spayed or neutered animals end up being less stressful because they no longer have to fight to find a mate or feed their babies. “So there will also be fewer reports of animal bites,” Köklu suggested.
Animal-lovers protest ‘five-star animal death camp’
Meanwhile, animal rights activists gathered in front of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality headquarters in Saraçhane to rally against a controversial animal shelter in the city’s Kısırkaya neighborhood, claiming that the aim is to isolate and kill stray animals under the disguise of spaying.
“We are asking municipality officials: Where are the 20,000 dogs you spayed? How many are alive? How many have you actually returned to the streets, in line with your legal obligations, after spaying them?” Elif Narin from the Animal Rights Protection Association said during her speech at the gathering.
Narin said the municipality is “committing a crime” by continuing to run the camp at Kısırkaya despite an annulment decision from Istanbul’s 6th Administrative Court.
“We filed a criminal complaint against the Ministry of Forestry and Waterworks and the municipality, which are jointly responsible for the illegal functioning of the [Kısırkaya] camp,” she added.
Animal rights groups have long been at odds with the municipality over possible animal rights violations that they suspect are taking place in newly constructed shelters. They demand the closure of these shelters, which they say are uncontrolled and uninspected “five-star death camps,” in an ironic reference to the municipality’s publicity campaign describing them as “five-star hotels” for animals.