TURKISH STRAY DOGS INTERVIEW By Claudette Vaughan
We would like to know all about Turkey and the specific problems animals face there.
The attention of my foundation is mainly focused on stray dogs and dogs in shelters in Istanbul. Turkey has an incredible amount of stray cats and dogs. Some figures: There are approximately 150,000 stray dogs in Istanbul and approximately 30,000 dogs living in shelters. Turkey’s three largest cities (Izmir, Ankara and Istanbul) have over 500,000 stray dogs together. Because of lack of education, many people are not aware of the fact that animals do have emotions and do experience pain. Due to misinterpretation of the Quran, dogs are considered dirty animals. There is only one humane and structural solution to the stray dog problem, which is Neuter and Release, but because of neglect and corruption the problem hasn’t been solved yet. Dogs are abused, and most of the time, the abusers are not prosecuted, and even if they are, the penalties are low. The majority of the 30,000 dogs that are living in shelters are locked up in a municipal shelter; places with more than a 1,000 dogs, that hardly receive any (medical) care or food. There has been a law since June 2006 obliging municipalities to solve their stray dogs problem by means of catch, neuter, vaccinate and return. Most of the cities don’t comply with the law and in the rare case that they do, it is not done in the right way. Animals that are caught are not fed, are not neutered professionally and are afterwards dumped in desolated places to starve of hunger and thirst, instead of being released in their original territory again. Citizens are afraid of the strays and chase them.
What does your and your organization do?
We try to increase awareness for this problem and the right solution in our contacts with citizens and authorities in both Turkey and Europe and through our website. We support Turkish organizations in their struggle for the dogs. We are their “lifeline” to European internet sources and we pay some of their bills. We also offer financial support to shelters and some smaller (neutering)projects.
You have spoken about the “terrible conditions in the shelters in Turkey”. How many shelters are there, are any Government sponsored and what have you witnessed when at one?
As said, my expertise is restricted to Istanbul, but the circumstances in the rest of Turkey are not any different. There are 33 shelters in Istanbul, most owned by the municipality. Dogs are locked in in overcrowded places 24/7. No medical care is provided and hardly any food. Dogs eat each other, dogs with mange, open wounds, tumors.
Please speak about your experience on the ignorance of the authorities in Turkey as you have said, “they are actually the guilty parties” when it comes to stray animals. What about the corruption in Turkish politics – what do you know of this? Are they spreading false rumors about animal protection workers?
The Turkish animal welfare bill from 2004 that was implemented in 2006, obliges all municipalities to solve the stray dogs problem by means of neuter and release. The city of Istanbul did not have the infrastructure or know-how to handle the project and therefore opened a tender. A company in pesticide was given the contract. They were paid depending on the number of ovaries and testicles they could hand over. The dogs were captured in a violent way, transported to the shelter in non-ventilated cars, and stayed there without proper care or food. We have pictures of the starving dogs in their so-called rehabilitation centers. We have testimonies from vets stating that the dogs were more or less abused instead of being neutered in a normal way. And dogs that survived their stay were dumped in unfamiliar places. (after being neutered, dogs should be returned to their original territory; they know where to find food, water and safe places, and they form a pack. Dumping them in unfamiliar areas causes fighting and disorientated dogs). All this was reported many times to the head of the veterinarian department of Istanbul and to the mayor. A municipal vet, who was in charge of checking on the company, reported abuse and neglect to the head of the veterinarian department. The man was forced to change his report, and when he did not do so, he was withdrawn from the job. . For a long time nothing changed. Then EHDKD (a Turkish animal welfare organization) took the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality to court. As a result, the tender contract of the pesticide company was cancelled. But……..since January the neutering is being done by municipal vets, and the situation is still as bad as it was, with only one difference: dogs are no longer dumped in unfamiliar areas in the cities, but in desolated areas (forest, highways) without anything to eat or drink. Again, the head of the veterinarian department and the mayor have been informed, but nothing has changed so far. In many Turkish cities dogs are caught but not neutered and instead dumped outside of the cities. Poisoning of dogs by municipalities is every day practice.
The European committee granted Turkey a huge amount of money for a rabies control project. The committee had intended for the money to be spent efficiently in combination with the neutering campaigns that are mandatory by law. However, as became clear from personal connections, the Turkish state department that is responsible for the vaccination never intended to neuter, vaccinate and release the stray dogs. Additionally, The Ministery of Agriculture which is responsible for the vaccination campaign is against neuter and release and does everything possible to change legislation in favor of catch and dump or catch and kill.
How are street dogs dealt with currently in Turkey?
Most people ignore them, many are afraid of them, and some abuse them. There are only few people that take care of them. Most municipalities kill them, some neuter them, just a few really implement neuter and release. Animal welfare workers tend to catch the dogs and lock them in shelters, which is obviously not the right solution: the number of strays adapts to the capacity of the environment, so when a dog is caught or killed, his place will be taken by a new dog: females will mate more often, their litter will be bigger and the survival chances of the pups will be higher. And the shelters are of course overcrowded, the municipal workers do not care for the residents and the volunteers working in the shelters can only look after so many dogs and certainly do not have the funds to feed and treat them properly.
What can be done?
Well, first of all we need money to support the local animal welfare organizations in their work in the shelters, the neutering campaigns and educational work. As much publicity as possible will help to create awareness of the problem both in and outside of Turkey. We have contributed to an amazing educational documentary; Let’s try to get this film broadcasted worldwide! People that visit this beautiful and impressive country should be made aware of its dark side. I am not lobbying to boycott tourism to Turkey, I rather ask tourists to give a small donation to the local animal welfare organisations in the city they visit or go to a vet with a sick or wounded stray dog they encounter and make sure the dog gets proper treatment by taking care of the costs, or apply tick and flee treatment to some stray dogs. Furthermore let’s generate political pressure; write to your national politicians and ask them to make a stand and to put some pressure on Turkey’s authorities. Turkey is not the only country with a stray dog problem, we should work towards legislation being applied in every country of the world to ensure animal rights and, of course, making sure the laws are implemented and able to sanction when not properly implemented. If you want to support us and our work for the dogs in Turkey, please contact email@example.com or visit our website www.actiezwerfhonden.nl
Why isn’t it on the European agenda in European politics?
The stray dog problem is regarded as a local issue, there is no European legislation. We are trying very hard to get in on the agenda, and to get proper legislation in order to protect stray animals and pets.
You have said, “it’s been a long struggle without much response”. Tell us about that?
It is common knowledge that Turkey already had a stray dog problem a hundred years ago, and municipalities have been trying to solve the problem ever since, by means of poisoning and deportation campaign. For obvious reasons, explained before, this did not solve the problem; there was an increase rather than decrease in the number of strays. All kinds of animal welfare organizations have been working on solving the problem for more than 10 years. Somewhere in 1999, the method of Neuter and Release was introduced in Turkey. Because of lack of knowledge, education and communication and a lot of ignorance, the method is still not applied on a large scale. There are one or two good examples like the rehabilitation centre in Bursa. There also some organizations doing a really good job in neutering as many animals as they can, but it’s still a drop in the ocean.
What about the Turkish people. How do they think of stray and neglected animals?
Most people aren’t even aware of the fact that animals have feelings, like pain and joy. A lot of Turkish people consider them dirt. They are regarded as lower species and it seems to be a law of nature in Turkish society that one always mistreats the ones that are lower. People are afraid of the dogs roaming around and there are a lot of misconceptions regarding animal rights and the Islam. This is why animal welfare workers are often considered kind of an enemy rather that the more or less heroic image they have in western society.
Are their street cats in Turkey and what is the condition like for them?
There are indeed a lot of street cats as well, but a cat is more self-supporting and has the ability to hide himself. One of my friends in Istanbul feeds about 60 stray cats every day. One evening I joined her. When we arrived at the feeding spots I could really not see one cat, but after her special whistle about 30 cats came running towards us to get their daily meal. So cats aren’t very much threatened.
Please speak at length on the misconception that many people have in the West towards Islam and its treatment of animals.
If only it were just the people in the West that had these misconceptions… the problem is actually that these misconceptions are common within the Islamic world. We really try to make people see that the Islam is in essence a very animal friendly religion. AYAT (verse in the Koran) 6:38 ” All the beasts that roam the earth and all the birds that wing their flight are but communities like your own. We have left out nothing in the Book. They shall all be gathered before their Lord.”
Why is there a lack of educational programs in Turkey and how would one get a educational program off the ground?
I am afraid this is a lack of communication, interest and money. Turkey is a very large country and is in some areas still without modern means of communication. Furthermore an educational program means that at least the authorities are aware of the need of such a program……but they are not. In my opinion the authorities are the ones who are most to blame for animal abuse. Some animal welfare organizations really try hard to start an educational program, but the problem is lack of funds and lack of cooperation. So some kids do get lessons in animal friendly behavior and the stray dog problem, but these programs are always organized by volunteers- the state doesn’t spend a penny on education.
Do you accept donations? And how can people reading this donate Linda?
Yes, we are thankful for any donations. We very badly need money to finance the sheltering of 400 dogs in Atakoy, to support the SHKD forest shelter, to finance medical treatment of some strays in Gulsuyu, and to support local neutering campaigns. We would also like to invest in education.
People can donate through the donation button on our website, or through Paypal (e-mail address Linda.firstname.lastname@example.org), or transfer a donation to our bank account (Stichting ActieZwerfhonden Zonnemaire
BIC / SWIFT-Code: PSTBNL21
Bank: POSTBANK N.V.-Amsterdam)
Did money go from the EU into rabies control to the Bursa Rehabilitation program and how successful was this?
No, Bursa was a combined effort of the municipality of Orhangazi, Bursa Animal Protection Association, Uludağ University and Pro Animale, established to catch, neuter, vaccinate and return the stray dogs in the area. Bursa rehabilitation centre started its work about 3 months ago. As written before, the EU Rabies Control money will at first only be used for pilot projects in Ankara, Izmir and Istanbul and I don’t think that will be successful…
Why do you think it is that people in the Netherlands and Europe are ignoring the problems you and others working with animals in Turkey are currently facing?
Well, it is not easy to support people and animals in Turkey. Turkish organizations are not allowed to receive donations from abroad, import rules are complicated, import fees are high, the country is immense, as is the problem, and adopting dogs from Turkey is, because of Rabies, not as simple as adopting a dog from, let’s say Spain. Because of all this, there are only 2 or 3 organizations fighting for the Turkish dogs in the Netherlands. Most Dutch organizations support projects in Spain. There are several reasons for this. Spain is for one closer to Holland, so donations can easily be transported by car. Spain is also an EU member so there will therefore be no difficulties with customs. And most Spanish people speak German or English, so no communication problems. Politicians in Europe are ignoring Turkish problems because Turkey is not an EU member state and because they say the stray dog issue is a national issue.
Who is supervising the law in Turkey and are there any animal welfare laws in place at all over there for stray animals?
Turkey accepted an animal welfare bill in 2004. As far as the stray dogs are concerned, it should have been implemented in June 2006, however, supervision fails and the municipalities don’t feel like implementing the law because they don’t think it is useful. The government should have put an effort in information and education, so the municipalities would have known neuter and return is the only structural and humane solution to the stray dog problem. Also the Turkish municipalities lack the knowledge and infrastructure and sometimes the money as well, to implement the law.
How are stray animals killed and who is doing the killing?
The strays are poisoned and starved. In most cases, the employees of the municipality are responsible; they poison on large scale and dump dogs in desolated places.
What is your Wish List? If you were sent money, what would you spend it on?
Well, naturally I would very much like to improve the shelter in Atakoy; maybe buy a nice strip of land and build some permanent facilities. The shelter has been forced to move a couple of years ago and will probably have to move again within the near future. Because of this we can only take care of the very basic needs, but the dogs suffer too much under the weather conditions, and the ladies in charge really work under poor conditions.
I would like to have produced a series of educational movies on different aspects of animal welfare and have them broadcasted nationwide, and I would also like to have advertisements on these subjects published in local newspapers.
And of course a educational program for school kids, advertisement in the newspapers and magazines asking people to neuter their animals, to take care of the strays and explaining to them that animals have feelings too.
And I would like to have the municipal neutering campaign supervised by animal welfare workers and the conditions in the municipal shelters improved.