Turkish Street Dogs

Street Dogs of Istanbul, and the Forest Sanctuary


Istanbul, one of the oldest cities in the world, is a wondrous place.  Situated at the very edge of Europe, the gateway to Asia, it is densely populated and vibrant.  It is truly a mixture of  old and new, modern and ancient.

Visiting Hag Sophia and Topkapi Palace, an American would be struck by the presence  of stray dogs relaxing contentedly on the grounds.  We notice many have ear tags. What’s the story?

sheltersignI was able to spend time with Bilge Okay, an active member of the group Sahipsiz Kopekler  (www.shkd.org).    She graciously gave me a tour of Istanbul and took me to the  forest sanctuary  the group maintains for street dogs.

She explained to me that while most urban Turks don’t keep pets, they love their street dogs, and try to care for them. However, as the city has become more dense, with much more traffic, and people becoming more transient, it  has not been a safe environment for  street dogs. Rural  people have also migrated to the city, or  immigrated from other  areas with dogs, & can’t or won’t keep them.  So, the group does trap/neuter/’release of dogs. While they have the dogs, they are also vaccinated, and ear tagged.  In fact, many tourists ask the tour guides about them.  The dogs do not look unhealthy.  They look like peoples’ pets…but they are on their own.

033Most are of a type that we would recognize as possibly Anatolian Shepherd or Marmara Sheepdog mixes.  There is some evidence that pariah dogs do develop a conformational type, but their general overall conformation is of a spitz type dog, many with prick ears.  There is a range of coloring, but most are  black masked blond, or black.

The forest sanctuary is at the northeast part of town.  Originally, it was  informally used, as it was close to a city refuse dump, and many people were dumping stray dogs. With assistance from  Dutch and British benefactors, they build dog houses and put up fencing, and they got tacit permission from the Ministry of Forestry to use the space.  Currently, the dog population hovers about 1,000 ,and they are permitted to stay there for life. What about the trap/neuter/release?  When they can, and they know where  dogs come from, they are returned to their neighborhoods.  When they are abandoned, they stay in the forest sanctuary.  The Ministry of Forestry now says there are too many dogs, but the supporters are hoping that the neutering program will decrease the number of dogs coming in.

Having visiteBilge  Okayd cities with street/pariah dogs, I am cautious to not approach dogs.  Many have not been treated well.  It is a sad fact that in many places, where the concept of human rights is still vague, one can’t expect compassion for stray animals.  Yet, upon hearing Bilge’s car, the dogs got quite excited and greeted us with wagging tails, and many leaned against us as we talked.

I told Bilge of my experience volunteering for humane societies in the USA, and of my experiences as a court advocate for a group that makes sure animal abuse cases are  prosecuted seriously in the court system. I gave her some of the printed materials we hand out, and she gave me the booklet they give out to elementary school children  to explain the overpopulation problem, and what it means to take care of a pet.

If YOU want to help the Turkish Street dogs, the groups assisting always need cash for food.

Here are the links:





For those who travel, please consider supporting the animal welfare activists in the country you are visiting.

If you can’t find information, or don’t know where to start, contact www.Animal-Kind.org

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One Response to “Turkish Street Dogs”

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