Istanbul is famous for many things, but the city’s population of homeless cats and dogs is the reason for my trip.
By Sara Graham
It was a bright, sunny Saturday, during my very first trip to Istanbul, when I went where very few tourists would dare – Yedikule Animal Shelter. It is located in the Municipality of Fatih, and quite easy to get to by metro, followed by a short walk. So, why did I end up there?
I’ve been working with Tails of Istanbul since last November – getting involved on the branding and communications side, whilst also becoming immersed in the Facebook community of expats and locals that tirelessly support street animals.
And can I just say that the ‘Cihangir Cool For Cats’ group is, without a doubt, my favourite on Facebook? Their daily accounts and rescues are heart-wrenching and at times quite dramatic. The hopeful heroics and happy stories literally have me on the edge of my seat!
I had to get used to the culture shock of seeing huge dogs wandering Istanbul’s streets, sometimes even sprawling across busy sidewalks. I learned right away that, for these animals, some areas of the city are better than others. The neighbourhood of Cihangir is literally just as cool for cats as the Facebook group suggests. The street cats are a very normal part of the scene around coffee shops and restaurants, and there are little cat houses scattered here and there; a few even have RE/MAX branding on them.
I stayed in this neighbourhood for a few nights, as well as at an Airbnb near the Galata Tower, which was hosting a feline family in the garden – two adorable kittens included! But back to the Saturday shelter visit: if you’ve ever been to a shelter, you are well aware it’s not the happiest of places. Although the staff at Yedikule care and do a lot, the work is overwhelming with over 3000 dogs and roughly 100 cats to take care of.
The hardest part is seeing these gorgeous dogs either chained up or in cages. This is necessary at shelters, and while a few are unchained and able to wander around, it is nonetheless heartbreaking. They all deserve good homes.
Also, the abuse that some have suffered before arriving at Yedikule … I can’t even.
One dog is not able to use his hind legs, another is recovering after being lit on fire. Criminal. And before you think this is unique to Turkey, know that this kind of abuse is happening all over the world.
The abuse history of these dogs is criminal. This sweetheart can no longer use his hind legs.
The cat house is a relatively new addition to this shelter, but this is not to say that the structure is new. Rather, it’s as make-shift as they come. It was probably used as a shed before all the sick and disabled cats arrived about a year ago. Therese Sundbrink, a long-time volunteer at Yedikule and founder of Tails of Istanbul, was the one who saw the need for a safe haven and took the initiative to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise the money required for renovations.
During our shelter visit, Yedikule’s owner only allowed us ten minutes to see the cats. This particular area is not open to the public, and rightly so. In that time, I was able to see just how badly the structure needs to be rebuilt. Years of dirt have built up – making it difficult to maintain sanitary conditions. I’ll never forget the orange cat with no eyes, suffering with open wounds because there’s no way to separate the cats at the moment. And because more rooms are needed to keep the sick cats separated, chances of survival are greatly reduced.
It is a sad situation, but not a hopeless one. While that Saturday visit was personally tough, it was also incredibly motivating. It was a reminder that good humans can do something with their anger and frustration; we are not helpless animals. It reminded me that we can take action and make a positive difference. Being a part of the Cihangir Facebook group, and following more rescue workers around the globe on Instagram, has proven to me that amazing things can happen when people unite around a cause.
If you’re wondering where you might step up, here are a few ideas:
Volunteer at your local shelter, or just pay a visit and give the animals some love.
Adopt a cat or dog from a shelter.
Join a flight volunteer group on Facebook and look for opportunities to escort an adopted animal to their forever home.
Follow shelters and rescue workers on social media.
Create a fundraising event. It doesn’t have to be huge; I have taught a few small yoga classes to raise money in the past.
Donate to animal welfare groups and projects.
Speaking of which, Tails of Istanbul’s crowdfunding campaign is 44% funded! This money is all going towards renovating the cat area at Yedikule. Full funding means new walls, new floors, more medicines, and plans include a fresh air garden. Ultimately making this a sanctuary that the public can visit, while opening up possibilities for adoption.
If you’d like to support with a small donation, please click the link in their Instagram bio, which will take you to a YouCaring page. Donations are easy to do and all major credit cards are accepted, as well as PayPal.
Tails of Istanbul also has a Facebook group for Foster Homes, Adoptions & Flight Volunteers. Two cats, Lassie and Boris, are waiting to go to Toronto right now! International adoptions are possible and the US & Canada are actually the most open to animals imported from Turkey.
Photo Credit: Tails of Istanbul
Sara Graham is an entrepreneur based in Torino, Italy, where she lives with her fiance and two cats, Tigerlily and Dragon.