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Animal activists struggle to solve Turkey's street dog problem

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 11/21/2010 12:00:00 AM | İPEK EMEKSİZ

A policy of 'neutering and returning' stray dogs to their original neighborhoods is the best way to deal with roaming animals in Istanbul, according to the founder of an animal rights society.

A policy of “neutering and returning” stray dogs to their original neighborhoods is the answer to dealing with the large numbers of roaming animals in Istanbul, according to the founder of an animal rights society.

“Neuter and Return is the most efficient, cost-effective and humane method of surplus dog control,” said Robert Smith, an English businessman who founded the Society for the Protection of Stray Animals, or SHKD, in 1998 after becoming outraged at the way Eyüp Municipality was allegedly abusing stray animals.

“The policy of Eyüp had been to either poison dogs [usually with strychnine] or to collect and dump them in the Hasdal rubbish dump. This policy was ineffective and cruel, as strychnine causes a slow and agonizing death,” Smith told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review late last week.

Emotionally affected at what he saw, Smith formed the SHKD to draw attention to the plight of stray dogs and to inculcate a more benevolent attitude toward the dogs in Turkey.

Smith and his team, initially composed of two catching teams, six veterinarians and 20 personnel at the time, began focusing on neutering and returning dogs to their habitat.

Undertaking all the expenses of the shelter, Smith constructed kennels for the dogs to stay and prepared intensive-care units and surgery rooms where veterinarians could spay and neuter dogs.

One year after founding the SHKD, animal rights activists protested the continued policies of Eyüp Mayor Ahmet Genç.

Although the SHKD was not involved in the protest, he said the team’s shelters in Hasdal were destroyed with bulldozers soon afterwards, leading Smith to suspect the municipality could have been involved.

Despite applying to the police and Governor’s Office, the investigation proceeded slowly and ended inconclusively, Smith said.

Smith rebuilt the shelter, which costs 25,000 Turkish Liras a month to maintain, thanks to savings he and his wife had saved, as well as business income from the United Kingdom.

Smith and his team have now successfully completed 40,000 surgeries during their operations, he said.

[HH] Changing mentalities

Smith said something should be done to prevent indifference and violence toward street dogs as many are abused.

The best ways to address cruelty is to promote responsible pet ownership through educational programs and by paying visits to governmental authorities to change the pervasive status-quo mentality.

“Our purpose is now to demonstrate with our open shelter in Hasdal how surplus dogs can be kept in healthy, stress-free and humane conditions relatively cheaply,” said Smith. “The cost of a national Neuter & Return program will be approximately 1 euro per citizen in the first year, 75 cents in the second year and then diminish to almost nothing by year 10,” he added, inviting officials and ministers to take the initiative.

[HH] Educational tour

Educating children with informative booklets in an attempt to improve the living standards of street dogs, the SHKD recently conducted a project in the eastern province of Bitlis by collaborating with the Animal Rights Association, or HAYTAP, and the Actie Zwerfhonden Association from the Netherlands.

Noting that they sterilized 240 dogs during the Bitlis operation, SHKD Manager Murat Bekan said they reached 2,000 students during the seminar.

As part of its educational tours, the SHKD also stopped in Fethiye, Göcek and Erdek this year, an association members said.

Thanks to Smith’s efforts, many municipalities, including Eyüp, have stopped poisoning dogs and have begun opening rehabilitation centers since about 2003, said Ömer Atış, a veteran technician working at the SHKD.

[HH] Tough conditions

Nonetheless, Atış said the team worked in very difficult conditions in Kemerburgaz, on the outskirts of Eyüp Municipality, because of a lack of support.

“Working in very hard conditions, such as a lack of electricity and heating, the team of SHKD and its volunteers have taken responsibility for nearly 2,000 dogs’ maintenance,” said Atış.

The reason there are starving street dogs and traffic accidents with dogs in Turkey is because Turkish people do not take responsibility for their local dogs, allowing them to stray and reproduce, he said.

[HH] Smith’s will

After selling his business in Turkey in 2004, Smith continued to finance the SHKD. Noting that his perseverance was partly justified by the adoption of the Turkish Animal Protection Law, Smith said that before he dies, his ambition is to be able to drive from Istanbul to Ankara or Istanbul to İzmir without seeing the body of a single dead dog on the road.

“I can drive from Madrid to Helsinki or from Budapest to Oslo without seeing a dead dog. Why can I not drive even a few kilometers in Turkey without seeing them?” asked Smith, adding that the municipalities’ current methods of neuter and return needed improvement.

[HH] Inviting volunteers

The recent financial crisis negatively influenced funding for the shelter. “Even though Smith tries to cover all expenses, we still need support,” says Atış, emphasizing that they are looking for volunteers who can give love and care for the dogs.

“Now we have a new project, called ‘Red Kennel’ on our agenda. As our kennels have become run-down after 12 years of usage, the founder of Karaca textiles, Hayrettin Karaca, decided to renovate them by undertaking the expenses,” said Bekan. The SHKD will take its brand-new shape in the next year.

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