Concerned for the health of a black cat roaming around the university campus where she works, Mevlude dropped off the feline at the veterinary clinic for street animals run by the Istanbul municipality. Visitors to the Turkish city, who admire its centuries-old mosques and Ottoman palaces, are often surprised to see cats and dogs making themselves at home on the streets, and watch them taking the best seats in cafes and restaurants without a care for the world. Like Mevlude, many Istanbul residents try to help these four-legged friends in their neighbourhood, putting out bowls of food and offering shelter by their doors or windows.
Now Istanbul officials are increasing efforts to ensure the good health of the street animals, and thereby of the residents who come into contact with them. That care can be seen at the “Vetbus”, where Mevlude brought the black cat because one of its eyes had been closed for several days. The bus is a mobile clinic stationed for several days in different neighbourhoods around the Turkish metropolis. “People generally bring the animals that they take care of … so that they are given anti-parasite” treatment, said Nihan Dincer, a veterinarian working for the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB). And “because people are in constant contact with them, they are also protected”, she added.
The attention given by Istanbul residents to caring for street animals partly “comes from the Islamic tradition, and part of it … comes from the structuring of the public space in the Ottoman Empire,” Mine Yildirim, a doctoral candidate at the New School for Social Research in New York, said. An animal protection law passed in 2004 forced municipalities to take care of street animals. In Istanbul, as well as the mobile clinic, IBB maintains six health centres. The aim is to vaccinate, sterilise and take care of around 130,000 dogs and 165,000 cats who live on the streets, according to the municipality. The animals, fitted with a microchip, are then taken back to where they were found, except those which are adopted by individuals during their stay at the health centres. Due to the development of these services, the municipality has cared for 73,608 animals in 2018 — that compares with only 2,470 back in 2004. There hasn’t been a single case of rabies in Istanbul since 2016, according to the municipality which employs 100 veterinarians and veterinary technicians.