Elderly Turkish man dedicates life to stray animals on holiday island
Neşe İdil – AVŞA
An elderly Turkish man has dedicated his life to abandoned stray animals and has been feeding them for the past 30 years on a tiny island in the Marmara Sea.
Kamil Sönmezoğlu, 76, rides his motorcycle every day to hand out food to animals on the island of Avşa, especially after the holiday season ends and the animals are left mostly alone during fall and winter.
“My duty starts after the holiday season ends. I distribute food every day to many spots. There are places where the animals are waiting for me. They know when I will arrive – it is like they have watches,” Sönmezoğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News, adding that the animals recognize him from the sound of his motorcycle.
“I spend a minimum of four or five hours on the animals every day. I ride my motorcycle regardless of the weather conditions. It doesn’t matter if it rains or snows. There is no one else who distributes food like I do. Of course there are people who leave food near their homes but there is no one else who travels many kilometers to feed the cats and dogs,” he added.
Sönmezoğlu said that in previous years he used to cook for the animals himself before he started using dry food and traveled around the island, which has a population of just 2,000, on a bicycle.
In 2010, he met with Ebru Büyükkaplan, who is the founder of Şirin Boutique, a website that buys certain items and food for stray animals in Avşa through the profit it makes from other sales.
Sönmezoğlu said he gets tired, cold and wet during winter when distributing food to over 1,000 animals. “But If I don’t distribute the food, I feel as if my own hungry children are waiting for me,” he added.
Even though he receives food from Büyükkaplan, Sönmezoğlu’s motorcycle and additional food expenses constitute a heavy burden and he spends 600 Turkish Liras on average from his retirement pension every month.
“People should be more sensitive towards animals. Those who have money should help,” he said.
He was even previously sued by the local municipality for raising his voice against the poisoning of stray animals on the island.
Büyükkaplan, meanwhile, does not live in Avşa but has been sending food to the island for seven years.
“I had accessories at home and I decided to sell them to buy food for Avşa’s stray animals. I launched a website and named it ‘Şirin Boutique,’” Büyükkaplan told the Hürriyet Daily News.
She stressed that the website “operates solely through donations” and urged people to be sensitive toward animals.
Both Büyükkaplan and Sönmezoğlu said the main problem on the island is the lack of castration services for stray animals, despite it being a duty of the municipality.
Büyükkaplan also had a message she wanted to convey to holidaymakers.
“Holidaymakers shouldn’t be so-called ‘animal lovers.’ They let stray animals in their homes while they are in Avşa. Maybe they feed the animals or just pet them, but then they leave and those animals become traumatized,” she said, while urging all people to put water out in front of their doors and drive more carefully on the roads to prevent killing stray animals.