Protest to demand protection of stray dogs in Turkey

People holding placards and chant, woman in frond with whistle and white hat
Protest demanding protection of stray dogs and cats, in Istanbul, Turkey January 9. The placards read: "Don't touch my dog!", "Don't touch my cat!", photo: Reuters/Murad Sezer

Hundreds of animal rights activists and dog and cat lovers protested on Sunday in Istanbul to urge the Turkish government to stop killing and abusing stray animals.

With placards reading ‘Don’t touch my dog’ and ‘Don’t touch my cat’, protestors demanded protection of stray dogs and cats in the country.

In December, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that the streets are no place for homeless animals and ordered municipalities to remove stray dogs from the streets and put them in shelters, which means death for the animals, according to animal welfare organizations.

After a young girl was attacked by dogs, the president tweeted on December 25 “to remove stray animals from the streets and move them to clean and safe environments. I call on all our municipalities to quickly take steps to ensure the safety of our citizens and protect these lives.”

The girl was not attacked by stray animals, but by dogs with owners; three people were arrested after the attack. The case is being used by the government to justify removing animals from the street, animal rights activists say.

“The municipalities seek ways to get rid of dogs as they see them as a burden to them. Although it is illegal, they do not hesitate to kill dogs, throw them in the forest, or imprison them in shelters,” Barış Karlı from the Turkish animal welfare organization Hayvanlara Adalet Derneği (HAD) tells The Animal Reader in a mail.

He explains that there are rules stated in the Turkish Animal Protection Law that make it illegal to randomly collect and kill stray animals.

“The living space of cats and dogs consists of streets, parks, gardens, that is, wherever people are. Municipalities can only take dogs that live on the streets to a temporary animal shelter for the purposes of neutering, vaccination and treatment,” he says, adding that the animals must be returned to the place from where they were taken after treatment.

After Erdoğan’s order, cities “started to collect dogs like garbage”, Karlı says. And even though the cities don’t have animal shelters, they still take the dogs and “throw them in the forests or kill them.”

Hayvanlara Adalet Derneği (Justice for Animals Association), founded by lawyers, has filed criminal complaints in different cities in Turkey regarding the recent illegal collecting of stray animals.

Stray dogs have always had a difficult life because people in local governments don’t like them, but the president’s statement has taken the hate to a whole new level, prompting a “dog massacre”, Karlı says.

“They may have stepped up on dog hatred, but we, together with activists from all professions, especially lawyers, stand by our dogs stronger, braver, determined and organized than ever before,” Karlı adds. “We will not allow such a massacre.”

“Despite the law, the president gave unlawful instructions and ordered the municipalities to collect all the animals and imprison them in shelters,” Öykü Yağcı from the Vegan Association of Turkey (TVD) tells The Animal Reader. She says the president’s words have triggered (even more) hate against stray dogs and that local governments were using the president’s order as an excuse to get rid of all stray animals.

“Animals with or without ear tags, animals who are mild and friendly are now being hastily collected by the municipalities when it is clear that these animals will not fit in the current shelters,” Yağcı says, adding that there are still so many cities in Turkey that have no animal shelters: “And those that have, even the ones in Istanbul, are like hell for the animals.”

The animals can’t roam freely or walk on grass at the existing shelters, they don’t get correct care and love, but they’re locked up in concrete cold cells with other dogs, she says.

“Even the healthy and young ones are being imprisoned. They get sick there, get bullied or attacked by bigger dogs, cannot get access to food and water, live in their own feces because the personnel do not usually and regularly clean their environment and take care of them as they should,” Yağcı continues.

“All animals living in the streets are being declared as “perpetrators”, while it’s the people who are the real perpetrators -those who raise any type of dog aggressive,” Yağcı says, referring to the dog attack that created the current situation.

“They [people] are the ones that need to be punished by law and be imprisoned, not the animals who have been “aggressed by humans”, because these are the animals who have been subjected to violence themselves,” she adds.

Yağcı calls the whole situation “pure speciesism…the false idea that the world and the cities we live in belong to humans only.”

“Demanding “other animals” to be locked up, either in shelters or dairy factories or fur farms, no matter which, is a pure expression of discrimination, thus, speciesism,” she adds.

After Erdoğan’s order, animal lovers took to social media to express their concern. With the hashtag #SokakHayvanlarıSahipsizDeğil [stray animals are not unclaimed], people continue to protest the president’s decision online.

Last year, the documentary Stray made international headlines because it looked at daily life in Istanbul through the eyes of the dogs Zeytin, Nazar and Kartal, who roamed the streets, searching for food and interacting with humans.

Director Elizabeth Lo said then that she was amazed by the way Turkey treated its stray animals: “In 2017, I traveled to Turkey, a country whose history and relationship with strays is unique in the world. Turkish authorities have tried to annihilate stray dogs since 1909, leading to mass killings of Istanbul’s street dogs for the last century.”

She said that protests against the killings transformed Turkey into one of the only countries where it is illegal to euthanize or hold captive any stray dog. Lo made the documentary to show the world how well stray animals were being treated in Istanbul so people would reconsider their relationship with other species.

The Animal Reader is a small independent news platform with daily posts about issues affecting animals.

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