Ten miles by boat from Istanbul in the Marmara Sea lies a barren island. Hayirsiz Ada, as the island is named, has no trees, no food, and no water. And just over 100 years ago, it was the site of a street dog genocide.
I don’t use the word genocide lightly, but there’s not much else you can call what happened to 80,000 street dogs in 1910.
That’s the year the mayor of Istanbul rounded up more than 80% of the city’s street dogs and dumped them on the island. The dogs died of thirst and of hunger and of drowning as they tried desperately to get across the sea.
The Street Dog Genocide in Film
Some people in Turkey say an earthquake that hit the city a few year’s later was God’s vengeance for what was done to the street dogs. An Armenian filmmaker made Chienne d’Histoire, which won best short film at Cannes in 2010. It tells the dogs’ story with graphic novel-like animation.
An even sadder film is the 30-minute Modern Bir Surgun Hikayesi, which has actual historic footage of the the dog round-up. Both films are subtitled – one in French, the other in English – but the images are powerful enough to overcome any language barriers.
Turkey’s Street Dogs Today
Unfortunately, this practice isn’t ancient history. While many Turkish people 100 years ago and today love street dogs and feed them, few dogs are kept as indoor pets. Dog dumping still happens. The country passed a national spay-neuter law, but Turkish animal rescue organizations say it’s only half-implemented.
If someone complains about a street dog, the city may sterilize it. But instead of returning the pup to his territory, the government often dumps him in the forests or on the highways outside of the city.
There he will be hit by a car, succumb to disease, or slowly starve to death. That’s what happened to Luuk. (Scroll down for the English translation.)
Just as bad is when municipalities round up the dogs and take them to “shelters.” What sounds like a humane approach to American ears often fails the dogs miserably. With few staff and little funds, the dogs are locked in cages with little care. Some have died of starvation.
Turkish street dogs aren’t forgotten though. Several rescue groups, both operating in Turkey and with help from abroad, are fighting to save them…
Thursday: Turkey’s amazing rescue groups and what they’re doing to help street dogs