We Go Where Others Fear To Tread



Istanbul Stray Cat Fairy-Tale

27 Sep, 2019

Turkey..Istanbul…stray cats.  Istanbul is for a long time being portrayed as a “cat safe haven” in the media. Lots of photos, short films and documentaries show us a picture of  peaceful, happy and healthy coexistence of stray cats and animal loving local communities.

The estimated number of strays – cats and dogs together – in the 15-million-strong city is around 250,000, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s  Veterinary Services Directorate says.The real number is a lot more according to the Istanbul Chamber of Veterinary Surgeons. Dogs alone number around 300,000 and cats – an icon of Istanbul– are over 700,000. Huge and growing numbers of cats are perceived by many as part of a romantic and an exotic culture of Istanbul… But can one really assume that thousands of homeless unprotected animals are a sign of a prosperous society? Is it not a sign of huge crisis instead?

Unfortunately there is a huge gap between Instagram images and real life of stray animals of Istanbul. The real life of stray cats in Istanbul is a hell on the earth!

The foreigners and tourists choose to stay at the resorts’ territories, thus they do not see the rest of Istanbul where the cats are dying in streets from neglect, illness, starvation. Often, being kicked by the people or being hit by a car results in the poor animals prolonged and dreadful death.

Vera is a former volunteer in Russia who has been living in Turkey for 7 years now. Even with all her experience from Russia, where animal welfare is almost non-existent,  she was still horrified to see how terrible the situation with stray animals is in Turkey. Particularly with cats. She contacted Forgotten animalsexposethe realistic facts and make the current situation vivid to us, in order to receive help, advice and support.
Vera started her own zoo-protection organisation called “HAYVANLAR İÇİN MERHAMET DERNEĞİ” to help animals as much as she possibly can with very limited resources she had.
Vera discovered that existing little help to homeless animals of Istanbul alone  is not nearly enough to battle a growing number of stay cats population. The homeless animal populations have now grown to enormous proportions and still continues to expand because little actions, if any are taken and no funds are being put forward to support the homeless animals and start using neutering/ sterilization as a method of reducing number of strays.

Vera founded her own animal protection organization, hoping to get volunteers and local population to raise money to start stray cats neutering campaign in order to improve their chances of being rehomed and to save the poor creatures from misery of giving birth 2-3 times a year and having to feed 7-8 kittens and then die from malnourishment or diseases coming with this.

However, not many people want to help and contribute. Instead Vera receives dozens of requests of help every day, informing her about abandoned, injured or sick animals.

Vera works tirelessly; spreading the word about neutering being the only human way toend the homeless-animal crisis.Unfortunately neutering is not popular in Istanbul.

Government and local authorities are not supportive. There are no formal and regular programmes to neuter/ sterilise stray animals, especially cats.   The quality of surgery in municipality vet clinics is poor and it requires a long period of rehabilitation and daily injections of antibiotics for at least 10 days. Post surgery complications happen constantly including infections and deaths. The quality of care after animals post-surgery is terrible and sometimes animals are left with no basics such as water and food in filthy shelters. Vera tried to work with a few local animal shelters directly to consolidate effort of her organisation with municipal resources. Unfortunately, she was not welcomed. Many times she was not allowed to visit a shelter and when she was, she was horrified by   the condition of places animals were kept in and the appalling level of care they were given.

Local people are generally trying to be kind to animals on the streets. But unfortunately, people often do not realise that the only real and effective way to help stray cats is through neutering programs. Often people give cats shelters in their gardens or outside their houses and feed them. In just a short period of time, instead of 2-3 cats they find, 30-40 of them could be helped, but no one thinks about neutering/ spaying them. People cannot keep them all and throw them away at the nearby beaches, parks etc. Vera receives regular calls from locals who ask her to accept kittens and cats to a shelter. When she asks why the cats have not been neutered on time to avoid multiple litters, people answer that municipal vets are not taking strays easy and there are long waiting lists to neuter them for free.  There are private vets as well but they are too expensive for the ordinary people. Municipal authorities themselves call Vera regularly and ask her to take unwanted cats from their boroughs under her care.  She always tries to convince them that neutering is the only way forward. Neutered cats would stop multiplying in numbers and male cats would not spray or fight. Sometimes she succeeds and tries to neuter as many cats as her sparse organisation’s funds (mostly donations from local or overseas people) but quite often authorities just   collect unwanted cats and bring them to the abandoned areas such as mountains where poor cats slowly and painfully die from starvation. By the way, euthanasia is not permitted in Turkey ( ironically).

Would you ever imagine how  heart-breaking the ugly truth that is hidden behind these instagram pictures of cute cats peacefully sleeping  on the best seats at cafes and restaurants is? Just go outside these areas and you will see malnourished and disease animals who has no one to ask for food and care, who are starving on the streets, having nothing to eat but mug during rainy seasons or suffer at the hands of humans who abuse or neglect them.

Istanbul is very well known for its cat houses that people build around the city to give cats a shelter. In reality, these houses are not fit for purpose. In fact, they strongly contribute to the spreading of infections among cats population. Also, people abandon their pets and leave them in these houses, thinking it is better than just to throw them on the streets, which is actually the same, if not worse, as cats tend to fight for territory.

Another common perception spread by the media is that Istanbul cats are being regularly fed by everyone. That is far from the truth as well.  In some areas situation is better than in others but generally cats are not being fed regularly. The municipality comes 2-3 times a week and leave a small amount of dry food which is far from enough. Local people rarely helps stray animals and there are only  few volunteers and rescue groups exist on irregular donations  who can only can feed and neuter cats in one area of the big city.

Vera helps as much as she can despite the extremely limited donations and contributions. People in Istanbul  are not willing to donate in order to help homeless animals, partly because of the cultural traditions  or because they live under the impressions that animals do not need help and live a happy life without the human support. To get cats neutered she often has to spend her own money to pay to a local vet.

Vera is crying out for help. The situation is critical. Despite the catastrophically growing population of stray cats nothing is being done to tackle it.

Injuries, diseases, infections, lack of regular feed and endless pregnancies make lives of stray cats extremely hard and short. Stray cats do not survive more than 3-6 years, if they are lucky.

To find a way and be able to spay and neuter as much cat population as possible Vera is and her small organization needs money.

Do not be deceived by the misleading pictures of cute, happy, well-fed cats of Istanbul. Look through the pictures! Without our immediate help and actions, thousands and thousands of cats will continue coming to this life to suffer and die on the streets without basic necessities such as food, water, shelter, or veterinary care. Together we can make Istanbul a real cat loving city.


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