Last week the municipality of Eyüp in Istanbul used anesthetics to catch about a hundred street dogs, which they took to a shelter to sterilise and treat them. But local animal rights defenders accuse the authorities of abandoning about 400 more dogs in nearby forests, a common practice in the city.

In the past few days, several videos were shared online that show municipal workers putting dogs into trucks. These dogs appear to be under the influence of strong anesthetics. In some of the videos, passersby yell at the municipal workers and try to stop them from taking the dogs away.


Two dogs lying in the street. In front of them, a syringe that the municipal workers used to anesthetise them. (Photo published on Instagram on October 25.)
 
A partially paralysed dog is taken away by Eyüp municipality workers while a woman – who is filming the scene – tries to stop them. (Video published on Facebook.)

Eyüp’s mayor explained that they were taking about a hundred dogs to a shelter “that’s as comfortable as a five-star hotel” located in Kısırkaya, about an hour away, to sterilise them and get them out of the neighbourhood. She said that Eyüp residents had many complaints about the presence of aggressive packs of dogs. In a TV report, several shop owners said they were afraid of these dogs and that they regularly bit people.


This Google Maps screengrab shows an aerial view of the shelter. For animal rights defenders, it is nothing like a “five-star hotel”. In 2016, a veterinarian employed there was accused of beating several animals and notably of having cracked a dog’s skull. He was sued by activists and fired from his job.
 
A dog’s protest
 

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Animal rights activists organised a protest in front of Eyüp town hall on Saturday. A dog stepped forward and started howling loudly. The scene was shared on social media and struck a chord with many viewers, who were convinced the dog was expressing his despair at the disappearance of many of his fellow canines.

An activist from Eyüp told France 24: “The municipal workers started grabbing dogs at the beginning of [last] week. They administered anesthetics without any vets being present. This practice is illegal and potentially deadly, especially for the older dogs. According to our count, the municipality sent about a hundred dogs to the shelter in Kısırkaya, but another 400 dogs were taken who knows where … no doubt into the forest.”

"Authorities abandon dogs in the forests without food"

Our Observer, Ayse F., is a PhD student who lives in Istanbul. She took part in the protest. Later, she went to feed dozens of dogs in the nearby forests where several local municipalities regularly drop off stray dogs.

“On Monday, after the protest, I went to help the activists who go the forests just outside Istanbul to feed the dogs that the authorities abandon there. Without people to feed them, they would face a certain death.”


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Scraps of meat distributed in a forest on the outskirts of Istanbul. Video published on October 21 on Instagram.
 

26 EKİM 2017 Eyüp bölgesinde besleme anları

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Volunteers distributing meat. Video published on October 26 on Instagram.
 

“This is a common practise. Municipalities want to get rid of these dogs. They say they take them to what they call “life parks”, which sounds lovely, but really they just drop them off in these forests to die. Many organisations try to help them, but it’s not enough. We give them meat scraps that are donated by butchers.”
 

"Les gens sont attachés aux animaux, les mairies ne peuvent pas faire n’importe quoi"

A sleeping dog wrapped in covers provided by people from the neighbourhood. Photo published on Facebook on October 18.


Our Observer Cem Arslan is the co-founder of an animal rights organisation on Istanbul’s Kınalı island. He maps animal abuse cases on an interactive map of Turkey.

“Street animals are generally better treated in Turkey than in Europe. The authorities treat and sterilise street cats and dogs on demand, and for free. In nearly every neighbourhood, a group of citizens takes care of the animals: They feed them, make sure the municipality is treating them well, etc.”


A sleeping dog wrapped in covers provided by people from the neighbourhood. Photo published on Facebook on October 18.


Because people are organised and attached to these “neighbourhood animals”, local authorities (usually) don’t mistreat them. For example, we make sure that they take animals back to their neighbourhoods once they are treated, which is mandated by law.

 

National outcry against abuse videos

“In Turkey, there is this culture around street animals, which some people love and others hate. But cases of abuse are rare. It is very frowned upon to hit animals. When a video showing animal abuse circulates online, it almost always causes a national outcry.”

 

Dogs are part of Istanbul’s landscape

Catherine Pinguet, who is a French academic and the author of the book, “The Dogs of Istanbul” (2008), explains that street dogs have always been part of Turkey’s biggest city.

“The residents of Istanbul always kept their dogs. It is part of the city’s identity. Orhan Pamuk, who won the Nobel Prize for literature, often wrote about this in his novels. Under the Ottaman empire, any attempt by the authorities to eliminate the dogs in order to 'modernise' the city was fought tooth and nail by civil society.”


“Islam forbids hurting an innocent and defenseless creature”
 
Constantinople dogs on Oxia island. Photo taken in 1910 by Weinberg and shared by Catherine Pinguet in her Slate.fr article.


“In 1910, Turkish authorities picked up nearly all the city’s dogs and put them on an island [see above photo], where they started eating each other before dying of hunger. Everyone in Turkey knows this story. It shocked the whole nation – and still does! Some of my Turkish friends cried when they told me about it.

Hurting an innocent and defenseless creature is forbidden in Islamic tradition. Many people fear these dogs, or fear diseases like rabies, and yet they refuse to see them killed or mistreated. However, society is changing, and today the defence of animal rights is no longer about religion.”

There are no official estimates of the number of street animals in Turkey. Through a complex calculation involving national figures on the sale of cheap dog food – usually the type fed to street animals – our Arslan estimated that there are more than 1 million street dogs in the country. According to Arslan, Turks spend about 92 million Turkish pounds (about €20 million) per year to feed them.

Article written with
Liselotte Mas

Liselotte Mas