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'A pet is for life; not just for Ramadan'!
The street dogs of Turkey were not something I was expecting.
Everywhere I travelled street dogs were abundant. Usually they were gentle and very obedient, meaning that clearly their lives had begun quite differently, once having been a much loved puppy.
But puppies grow into adult dogs and sadly, the practice of abandoning them to the goodwill of the local town's folk is all too common.
Our tour guide Gokan explained it to me quite simply. It is culturally taboo to have a healthy animal put down. Caring for stray and abandoned dogs is revered within the local culture and Islamic faith. Stray animals are seen as a community resposibility.
This was affirmed by a number of hotels and restaurants who regularly put out food for the stray animals.
There is also a government funded desexing and vet care program, although some street dogs clearly escape the good fortune of veterinary care when they need it.
Desexed street dogs are evident by their orange or yellow ear tags.
Whilst I had some misgivings about the lives these animals led, they clearly did receive plenty of communal attention and some care. Not one appeared to be starving. All I met were confident and gentle around humans.
Gokan taught me two words that I instantly learned in Turkish. "Gul", which means come and "otto", sit and soon after I was calling and commanding every street dog I met. After that I was frequently interacting with these divine animals and clearly, was not the only traveller to do so.
I was also very glad I had invested in a rabies vaccination series, meaning if ever I get bitten by an animal in a rabies classified country, I need only have two more shots of the vaccination to avoid succumbing to the disease myself. This is a must if you are an animal loving person heading to very many parts of the world, including Europe, Turkey, Asia, Africa and the Americas. Without my rabies vaccination, interacting with the street dogs would carry a much higher degree of risk if I were bitten!
The street dogs did break my animal loving heart in many ways, but I did accept that not all cultures approach abandoned and stray animals in the same way we do in Australia.
To shoo away a hungry stray dog in Turkey, or to put down such an animal is cultural taboo.
I did meet with some very proud dog owners of both working dogs and pets of the toy sized varieties, who loved and provided for their dogs, just as we would, here in Australia.
I take my hat off to all those dog lovers in Turkey, who regularly tend and care for these animals. Though a number clearly were in need of tick and flea treatment, I only saw one youngish dog that was clearly in desperate need of vetinary attention, with a weeping nose and eyes. He nearly broke my heart.
I did consider importing one of Istanbul's stray Anatolian sheepdogs, with whom I gained an instant bond and rapport, back to Australia, but wondered how practical or feasible such "foreign adoption" might be!
I saw little evidence of dog fight injuries'; indeed, most of the street dogs seem to happily co-exist as members of the street packs. They clearly knew where to go for food and water and had their spots to shelter from extremes of weather.
It is confronting to visibly see so many homeless animals, but then again, within our own culture, animals are abandoned much less publicly and their care and rehoming is left to the mercy of animal shelters and local councils. We view pets as a private, rather than communal or civic welfare responsibility.
No doubt some of the street dogs in Turkey, do find forever homes, but hundreds or thousands clearly have made the streets, or more accurately particular areas of the city their home range.
I could not help but think, as a dog lover who walks her dog at least once a day, how difficult it must be for those Turks that do keep their own animals at home, if they want to exercise their dogs publiclly. With that many strays, your own pets health and safety, when out in public could not be gauranteed.
Companion animall laws in Turkey are clearly quite different to our own, with dogs not seeming to be required to be kept on their owners premises, or exercised on a leash. Some of these street dogs may have a loving home to return to in their own good time, but enjoyed socialising with humans and other dogs by day, when their owner was at work!
We once had a labrador who loved nothing more than to do exactly that in the days when dog laws were more relaxed, here in Australia.
I do wonder how "my" Anatolian Sheepdog is doing and whether I should have done more to ensure him a safe, loving and forever home!
Fiona Ludbrook is the Client Services Director of Pets and Plants Ballarat. Now, entrepreneur and blogger, she was born and bred in Ballarat, but spent many years as a teacher in Melbourne’s