Cankurtar Ankara: How to save a life
Emrah Güler - ANKARANur Karadağ is 20 years old. She recently moved from the Aegean city of İzmir to Ankara to study university. At first glance, she is the typical animal lover. “I had learned that the world does not only belong to humans early on when I was barely walking, when a bird hurriedly took the piece of bread that I had dropped,” said Karadağ, remembering the cycle the pet owners go through for the first time.
The cycle that begins with adopting a furry kitten, spending the next 11 years with this new family friend, later seeing him die, going through this new-found grief, running away from animals, ends with the inevitable when a new animal comes into your life. In Karadağ’s case, the final step in the cycle was much grander than adopting the next animal.
Karadağ is one of the founders and an integral part of Cankurtar Ankara (roughly translated as Save a Life – Ankara), a 100 percent volunteer group, mostly made up of but not limited to university students saving, protecting and feeding animals, mostly dogs. “We have been active for nine months, in various parts of Ankara,” said Karadağ. “We haven’t chosen a specific location. Shelters, industrial areas, any place where there is an animal in need, we are there.”
A year before Cankurtar Ankara, Karadağ opened an Instagram account devoted to animals, soon cultivating a network and seeing a vast world of animal lovers beyond her dreams. When she ran into an account belonging to Bizim Çocuklar Sokaktaki Canlar (Our Children Live on the Street), a team devoted to saving and feeding animals, something sparked in Karadağ. “I thought, ‘I wish there was such a team in Ankara.’ I spent sleepless nights trying to figure out how I could initiate such a group,” said Karadağ, now in Ankara for university.
Then she did, starting Cankurtar Ankara with a friend and 12 animal lovers. “After our first meeting, for the first time, I slept like a baby,” said Karadağ. The group found food for their first feeding in two weeks. She said she was “Going to our first feeding with the greatest of hope, but I returned bawling,” as the 12 had dropped to three within days, having lost their only means of transportation along with the departed.
Volunteering to save animals
Karadağ and her friend Oğuzhan Selçuk didn’t give up, going out for hours to pick up food and more hours to feed the animals. Soon they were five, ten, and now, there are around 50 animal lovers in the group.
Cankurtar Ankara goes to Ankara’s biggest shelter in Gölbaşı every Sunday, feeding the dogs with the food that was donated. There are well over a thousand cages with around five thousand dogs.
Cankurtar Ankara is not affiliated to any society or agency, working solely on individual devotion. The group is struggling to find food, and means of transportation of the food. Karadağ finds animal rights in Turkey to be taking baby steps. “People don’t seem to have a grasp on the fact that animals can also be in pain. Dogs don’t get cold, cats have nine lives and birds migrate, so they say,” said Karadağ. “With this selfish view, many don’t take us seriously.”
However, Cankurtar Ankara has its miracle workers and donors, with food coming from as far away as Germany and Holland. There are veterinary clinics, like Lena, that take in injured animals with open arms.
“I’m not even talking about the porcupines and pigeons taken home to heal,” said Karadağ.
More than half of the group is made up of university students. “But there are truck drivers, photographers, government officials, business people and cooks among us,” said Karadağ. “There are people of all ages and of all walks of life who help us to get up in times of despair.” One thing they have in common is they all devote their time on a volunteer basis. And, of course, all are die-hard animal lovers.
“The conditions in the shelters have never been good,” said Karadağ. “But our priority has never been to play the blame game. Our priority is finding solutions, to lend helping hands to these helpless animals, to make them feel they are not alone. And the more we are able to do that, there will be one less animal alone.” You can find Cankurtar Ankara on Instagram and Facebook through “cankurtarankara” and contribute to become a volunteer or just simply donate some food.
Through the words of Cankurtar Ankara’s life savers
Burcu Çağlayan, 39, social media content editor and photographer: “I am proud to be part of Cankurtar Ankara. I have two cats. My love for them has taken me first to the streets to feed stray animals and later to the shelters with Cankurtar Ankara. There are no words to describe the silent lives they live. Shelters and streets are not their place. There should not be such a thing as street animals. Streets don’t bear animals. The bond we create with our shared goal is very strong. We do amazing things, because we have faith. We are a family connected through our shared love, without regard to age, sex or occupation. I recommend that everyone at least once goes to a shelter and experiences feeding the animals. The way you look at life and all living things will change.”
Osman Kaplan, 38, truck driver: “Sometimes I travel to four cities in a single day, and I feel dead tired. But I spend my days off in the shelters with Cankurtar Ankara, and sometimes even on my working days when we get a call about an injured animal. One of us provides transportation, another pays the gas, another brings food, and another catches the animal. It’s the perfect teamwork in motion. How can you feel tired when you know you have saved a life?”
Oğuzhan Selçuk, 25, university student: “Being part of Cankurtar Ankara is an indescribable feeling. Before, I was an animal lover like many. Now, I know there is more to loving animals. I now know that they are no different than humans, feeling the same pain. It gives me a profound sense of peace when feeding and when saving an animal’s life and knowing that there are others who feel the same.”
Tuyunbike Güler, 20, university student: “When I first went to meet Cankurtar Ankara, I was in a new city, meeting new people. We were all coming from different places, but there was something that brought us together, saving lives. Cankurtar Ankara brought me the chance to meet these beautiful people, and these beautiful animals.”
One happy dog among many
Here is the story of Tümer, a name derived from the enormous tumor he had on his head. He was found at a gas station off 150 km. Ankara, living in a horrendous situation behind the stairs, amidst scattered pieces of glass. After a long journey back to Ankara, he was treated by Başak Numanbayraktaroğulları of the Lena Veterinary Clinic. He is now living in the clinic, happy as seen in the photos, playing, fooling around and eating properly. Tümer is often seen shaking his head, as if to remind himself of the relief from the humongous tumor he once had. He is one of the many lives saved by Cankurtar Ankara, and he is waiting for a happy life in a happy home.