The Strays of Istanbul

The most inspiring city in the world. Apparently.

When you live somewhere so artificially ugly it is easy to appreciate the beauty in things that would otherwise have gone unappreciated and so, in a strange twist, the world instantly becomes more beautiful. The smallest things, once previously taken for granted take on a shine that I call seeing the world through grey tinted glasses. How intense the pink of the spring bloom looks against the dank, grey wall it is fighting with for space.


The startling purple of this plant above (excuse my lack of plant knowledge) against the back drop of the unkempt bit of greenery the locality has not bothered to keep up with, because, as with much of the space in this city, it is set to be gutted and turned into another hastily built sans-regulation block of flats.

It is not just those odd bits of flora that cause delight in ones eyes. For me, a defining feature of this city and something that one can constantly find wonder in is the strays. Anyone who has lived (or perhaps even visited Istanbul) would have had these often bedraggled creatures feature as part of their everyday. And as menacing and unappealing as they may look to the untrained eye, upon closer inspection one will find they are not the wild creatures that their look betrays in them, rather, that they are tamed to the urban environment. In fact many do not even register human beings on our daily grind, they are much too focused on the pack, rummaging for food, or lounging listlessly in the sun.

In restaurants, at the front of Sities (apartment blocks), in high end multi-million dollar neighbourhoods, lying amongst ancient ruins that now act as tourist attractions. It does not matter what section of town you happen to land in. These strays are everywhere.


I often found myself surprised at the respect that these vagrant animals seemed to have with the locals. We looked on aghast as a stray dog followed us into the road and then walked on ahead right in front of an imminently incoming tram. I had never seen anything die like that before and I cowered behind my hands waiting for the unfortunate event to be over. As I opened one eye, in that innate way we humans are attracted to such macabre events (do not want to see it, yet cannot look away) I looked on bewildered as the tram driver slowed to a quick stop, coming within centimetres of knocking this dog over. Bewilderment soon turned to bemusement as I watched the dog amble seamlessly on, without a break in his stride, batting not an eyelid as he sauntered across to get this view of the Bosphorus. The sheer arrogance of the creature. It was as if he knew all along that there was no way in hell anyone or anything here would mow him down.

We called him Darwin.



In general one will find that Turkey is a rather stray friendly country. The tags one may or may not notice on the ears of the strays are not so that they could be collected and taken to kennels in the winter, as we were told by a well meaning yet misinformed acquaintance. The trap, vaccinate, neuter and tag program is Turkey’s solution to the stray problem; a way to control the population and ensure the strays are relatively healthy. Much nicer than the euthanasia of healthy animals as perpetrated in countries such as the US.


No memories of this city are complete without thoughts of the strays. Memories of the first time walking down the dark alley home terrified as we were surrounded by a pack of stray dogs only to find that they were barking at each other and not us.  Of my family taking a diversion to their hostel on the way home down to the same misconceptions, of me looking on in wonderment as a tourist family allowed their child to pet and poke at a baby kitten when they could see the mother looking on furiously and how I felt for the child when the mother lashed out in order to save her baby from that incessant annoyance. The stray kitten taken in by a friend and then let go reluctantly upon leaving the city (I do not condone this but it is a memory nevertheless).  I cannot even begin to recount each moment shared with these creatures that will be ingrained in my memories forever. But here are a few pictures that I hope can possibly do them justice.







IMG_3234 IMG_3233



One of many strays.




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