One man, about my age, clearly had a small black and white spotted friend in the park. For some time, he chatted with his friends and then he saw another friend, a cat very comfortably enjoying a summer afternoon, splaying himself openly in front of an audience that one can only assume was organized for him. This man quickly recognized this cat, and soon it became apparent that this was hardly the first time that they encountered each other. He scratched his belly, and in no time, very comfortably perched this sleepy stray cat over his shoulder, and then went on with this business as usual. The pets of this city seem to be everyone’s.
The other night a similar situation unfolded while visiting the Asian side of Istanbul. The suburb of Mona had its very own distinctive flavor. As I walked through the streets friends translated new street art that scattered the walls. Some of the art referenced different aspects of the current Gezi park protest. I was struck when a friend translated some street art that said: “You cannot have my body,” and she explained the current dynamics of the feminist protest in Turkey. Some women are trying to encourage less hurtful language and cursing that references women in a derogatory way.
Through my travels on the Asian side of Istanbul I noticed a similar love of animals as I did in Taksim just a few days prior. While walking to get the “best ice cream in both Europe and Asia,” I was struck by one woman who clearly had saved some scraps from her own dinner for her smaller friend who was sleeping on the sidewalk. She crouched over, put her hand under his sleepy mouth and fed him scraps from her own dinner. This dog, who hardly seemed impressed, lifted his head on slightly, just enough to take a few bites, and then he resumed to his normally scheduled napping hour. Like I said, this city has pets.
Just today, while out walking in Kaleici (I’m currently staying in a beach town in Antalya…it’s just as lovely as it sounds) I saw woman who at first I thought was talking to a tree. I have seen some strange things here. She was singing, she had three plates of food and two bowls of water and I was intrigued. As I walked close, I saw a family of cats and kittens perched in the branches all meowing and cautiously considering taking a trip down to the ground to get their breakfast. Of course this trip wasn’t needed the woman was prepared with a spoon, and one by one she spoon fed a tree full of kittens. It’s only natural that I asked if I could help too.
Under the current legislation, these dogs and cats freely own and wander the streets. They have tags on their ears, which indicate that they have been vaccinated and spayed or neutered. Apparently, this service is provided for free for most pet owners in the city. However, a few years ago, the AKP party (the current ruling party in Turkey) initiated legislation to euthanize strays animals. A resounding 70 percent of the city blocked the legislation, instead favoring a policy of adopting these stray animals as pets, not as their own pets, but the city’s.
I read an random article the other day, and some woman who was involved in the Gezi Park protest. She was asked to describe the contents of her purse including: her wallet, a fresh bottle of water (it’s not safe to drink the tap water here), cosmetics, and scraps that she keeps in her purse for stray animals. Yes, you heard that correctly she keeps scraps in her purse for stray cats and dogs, and I’d be lying if I didn't admit that, I too, now carry around scraps of food for new little, furry, Turkish friends.