Thursday, November 22, 2007

Street Dogs

One thing I always really used to love in Istanbul are the roving cats and dogs all over the city. I always had pets in the States, and I really missed animals when I came here. The street animals were a nice way to be able to pet and talk to and enjoy cats and dogs, without the bother of actually owning them. They're filthy, certainly, and have been rolling in god-knows-what, and my hands were usually black after a good pet, but I just carried a pile of moist towelette packets from restaurants in my purse, ready for when a friendly animal came by. Out where I live now, there are tons of dogs, but very few cats, and I've kind of quit petting them so much because there's always an old woman nearby to screech at me and I just got tired of it.

In the old days, there used to be packs of street dogs running around the city. This, apparently, was less pleasant, as dogs in packs are thinking in their pack mentality, and they can be more dangerous. My only experience with a pack of dogs was with a pack of overgrown puppies in Bakırköy. They were loping around and I just couldn't stop myself from squatting down in front of them and smiling, at which point the whole pack, eight or so of them, came bounding over to me, to jump all over me with licks and happy barks. For a few seconds I was inundated with giant puppies, then they just passed by and continued about their business.

Most Turks don't like animals very much. More specifically, they're put off by the manginess of some of the cats (and probably the thought of what they've been rolling in, given the number of open trash piles in the city), and a lot of people are absolutely terrified of dogs. I thought of writing this post looking out my window last night, when my neighbor was walking his little moppet of a white poodle, and a woman trying to enter her building screamed and backed away about twenty feet, refusing to go into the door until the neighbor took the poodle far, far away. To me this is hilarious, when people are scared of small, domestic dogs on leashes. I've seen grown men screech and run to the other side of the street at the sight of a dachshund. In their defense, it seems most Turks were bitten by stray dogs as children. A majority of my students had been. Plus, whenever a dog comes anywhere near a mother with her kids, the mother usually screams and pulls the kids away, thus passing on the fear. In the dogs' defense, people often run away from them, and, dogs being dogs, they think this is great fun and often chase them. To someone terrified of a dog, the difference between a bite and a playful nip isn't noticeable.

The dislike of dogs is also culturally embedded, as Islam considers dogs to be unclean animals. The Bakırköy dolmuş drivers have a special hatred of dogs, and many of them seem to keep bottles of water next to them just for throwing at dogs who come near. My husband says it's because they're Shafi (a sect of Islam), from Southeast Turkey along the Syrian border, and Shafis in particular loathe dogs. The drivers' Turkish is, to me, totally incomprehensible, mixed as it is with Kurdish and Arabic, so perhaps this is true. One thing I hate, though, is how some people treat the street animals. They kick them, throw rocks and water at them, hit them, and the meaner ones coax the animals to come to them before abusing them somehow. The security guards around my building seem to take care of the neighborhood strays, and many times I've seen them breaking up groups of teenage boys hurting one of the otherwise friendly dogs. There were groups of strays at my old school, dogs that lived on the farms surrounding the campus. One morning, we arrived at school to find one of them had gotten into the building somehow. Everyone was scared of him (again, an overgrown puppy), and no one knew what to do, so they were all wringing their hands waiting for security to show up. I went to the canteen and got a meat pastry, and used it to lure the dog outside. The only reason he couldn't get out himself is that he was kind of stupid and was scared of the stairs. All the while everyone was getting mad at me because I was pregnant, and they were sure I would catch some horrible disease. Just as I got the dog outside and fed him the pastry, a security guard showed up and kicked him in the face. The poor dog just yelped and cowered and rolled over on his back, trying to finish the pastry while the guard continued to kick at him. I tried to get him to stop it (couldn't he see the animal was clearly not a threat?) but he wouldn't listen. I felt kind of sick the rest of the day.

Many neighborhoods have their local stray, and there are people who feed it. In my neighborhood, many of the strays have ear tags (meaning they're fixed, I think), and are either friendly or just avoid people. Every year, they cull the strays because they do multiply. I'm guessing it's the security guards who choose which ones get tagged, based on whether they're nice, social dogs or not. People are told that the other dogs are taken out of the city to live on a farm, and surprisingly, people believe this. In one of my old neighborhoods, there was this huge black and white dog who was getting looked after. He was a dog with a job. Whenever some kids from another neighborhood came to bother the kids from ours, this dog would come and chase them off. He also chased off other dogs. Every night, as I was walking home late after dark, this dog would appear out of nowhere with a 'Wuff!,' and either take my hand in his mouth to walk me home, or trot along ahead of me to bark at anyone who came near me. I always gave him a good scratch when we arrived at my house. The first few times, I tried to give him some food, which he just turned his nose up at, looking at me like, 'I'm just doing my job, ma'am. I don't take tips, but that left haunch is a bit itchy...' Once this dog took a good beating in a fight, and I could see some neighbor had either taken him to a vet or patched him up himself. That winter the dog disappeared. I like to think someone took him off to a farm somewhere to retire.

I'll probably never have a furry pet here myself, not as long as I live in an apartment (I like small animals, like rats, but it would be a cold day in hell before my husband would allow one in the house-- my plan is to make LE want one so much his dad can't say no). I don't think it's fair to a cat to be trapped inside all the time (it makes them a bit psychotic and strange), and I can't stand litter boxes. A small dog would be possible, I suppose, but I don't like them much and I hate having to walk them and pick up after them. Sometimes on some of the expat forums I regularly read, there are impassioned pleas for money for some animal shelter or other, with discussions about how mean people are to the street animals, and how uncaring, and it's certainly true. At the same time, I can't see how the street animals are more important than, say, the street children, who also roam in packs selling Kleenex and begging for change, and people aren't much kinder to them. At the place where I used to catch my bus, there was a nice street dog with a tagged ear. She was one of those dogs who smiles, really smiles, and very morning we had a nice little chat and a scratch, with her curling her lips up to show me all her teeth. Natually, I named her 'Smiley.' My bus driver and the students on the bus were horrified, and none of them wanted to sit next to me, but I still see that dog going around sometimes, smiling at people and either coming up to them or shying away as she sees fit. She's clearly not a pet, but she will have to do.


sandyhoney said...

There was this german shepard and dalmation pair that used to walk me home every night from work in Sirinevler - and you're right - they weren't interested in "tips". I loved those two.

I'm a bloody softy for kittens and puppies. I bought some tuna that I hated - I thought that it was too much like cat food. So I kept a can in my pocket and gave it to the cats in my hood. They were uninterested at first - seems that the neighbourhood gives them chicken scaps on a regular basis. If I were a cat, that'd be the way to go.

Stranger said...

I once found an abondoned little kitten and brought him home. He was so small! I gave him tuna, and a bath, and spent a couple evenings pinching his fleas. One day he went out the window (I was on the ground floor) and left. There were some bad boys who played outside my window and I heard them saying (in English) 'Drink milk cat,' and since they were giving him milk which would have given him diarrhea, and since they were bad boys who liked being assholes to me for being foreign, I just gave up.

I like how very butcher shop has its regular cats who lounge around in front and keep the other cats away. They're the lucky ones!