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Dogs looking for friends

IBAN NL62INGB0004011891 BIC / SWIFT-Code: INGBNL2A ING Bank-Amsterdam. ActieZwerfhonden Zonnemaire The Netherlands

A flash visit to Istanbul 2006

The EDHKD, a volunteer organization from Istanbul that transfers dogs from the city asylum of Sariyer to Germany, had asked me to accompany a few of their dogs during the flight to their new homes. They were even willing to pay for the trip.

Besides the fact that I liked the idea of being able to help these animal lovers, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look in Atakoy again.

And that’s how I came to fly out of Schiphol on Thursday morning.

“To my great relief” I had watched a disaster story on TV the previous night. It was about a plane collision in mid-air. You’ll understand that I kept my eyes open during the flight in order to be able to warn the pilots, if need be…

The way over was very nice. I was sitting next to a Toyota salesman and a young Turkish gentleman who had lived in Holland since the age of seven. During the four hour flight I learnt a lot about Turkey, the EU and Toyota… J

According to my Turkish neighbour, the people of Turkey are not that enthusiastic about joining the EU. They’re afraid that the lower classes will have to pay a steep price for this joining. Mr. Toyota taught me that Toyota’s in Holland are much cheaper than in the surrounding countries. There is a steep tax on top of the “factory price” and so the car is expensive enough as it is.

I also heard that our Pierre Van Hooijdonck still has a lot of fans in Turkey

O yes, and for those of you who’d like to go to Turkey one day: don’t go to the large shopping- centres. You pay too much over there. If you want to shop at a good price in Turkey, you have to visit the marketplace or the smaller stores.

Of course we also discussed immigrants, racial discrimination, and cultural differences. I have learned a lot, but this is probably not the time and place to explain it all.

At the airport in Istanbul I was met by Banu and Murat Bekhan of the SHKD. He would take us to Atakoy. The Atakoy shelter is really “in the middle of nowhere” and since Banu’s car fails more often than not, Murat’s help was very welcome.


Banu, Nilufer and Cemille were very surprised to learn that I really wanted to go inside the shelter, instead of just observing the dogs through the fence. Apparently most people dare not enter the shelter. This might also become a problem when it comes to finding workers to do jobs.

However, out of 400 dogs there was only 1 who bared his teeth to tell me that I was not welcome on his terrain. But he wasn’t all that tough, because he already ran for cover the moment I let out a brief yell… The other dogs came up to me – some of them jumping up – to be petted, or they observed me from a proper distance

Just like during my visit to the old Atakoy, I was reassured to learn that most dogs are happy and energetic. In general, they are in good shape and in good health.

I always love to walk among the dogs, to observe them quietly and to pet the ones that want to be petted.

Afterwards, I looked like I had taken a mud bath.J The ground is clayish. It gets slushy after one shower already. The dogs that had jumped up against me with their muddy feet had left their traces. The weight of the clay had made my shoes three times heavier (the planned laying of some pathways is not superfluous).

The dog kennels and sunscreens that were bought with the money that our contributors have donated, are put to good use.

However, there is still a huge amount of work to be done.

When the planting and laying of a few hardened pathways is finished, it will be time to work on a few kennels. About fifteen dogs are chained down day and night, in order to keep them from fighting. They deserve a better fate. Furthermore, Nilufer still has a number of dogs of a smaller race. They are held in a small container.

These little dogs are kept inside day and night because they cannot defend themselves against the other, bigger dogs. An outside kennel, connected to the container, would make these dogs’ lives a lot more enjoyable.

As you know, Cemille still has a few bitches that have not been fixed. Somebody is willing to pay for neutering the dogs. Banu regularly tries to take away a dog for the surgery. However, the number of dogs is limited to two at the time, because otherwise Cemille cannot take care of the dogs after the surgery.

Both Nilufer and Cemille have a few unfixed he-dogs and I’d like to see them being neutered. There are not a lot of fights at Atakoy, but unfixed he-dogs are often more aggressive then fixed dogs. Furthermore, it appears that a bitch that has been fixed – according to a Turkish vet – still gets with young… That kind of surprise would take place less frequently if all he-dogs were neutered.

Yes, and then Banu pointed out to me the problem of the water supply. There is no water conduit in Atakoy. On the terrain there are a few water tanks that the city fills up regularly. Nilufer and Cemille have to use buckets to divide the water over the terrain. Some sort of system of water pipes that would enable the water to be distributed over the terrain would be an incredible relief for these ladies.

In short, upon leaving Atakoy I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I was relieved that the majority of the dogs are happy and healthy. On the other hand I was sort of concerned about all the work that remains to be done.

From Atakoy we went to Murat’s clinic to freshen up. The dogs’ enthusiasm had changed me into a piece of mud. Lucky for me I had brought a clean set of clothes J. That night one of the EDHKD volunteers had invited Banu and me over for dinner.

Istanbul is an immensely large city. It took us half an hour from Atakoy to Murat’s clinic. From there to our dinner engagement was another hour’s drive.

On the way we often came across stray dogs. Now I can imagine why many tourists are unaware of the problem of stray dogs; there are a lot of people in the streets. Dogs roam around among them. They blend into the whole scene so perfectly that you hardly notice them. The drama of poisoning and mistreatment mostly takes place during the night, or very early in the morning. Not really times when a tourist would go for a walk through Istanbul

I was a bit disappointed about my first visit to a Turkish house… besides the fact that there was no elevator in the building, it looked just like our homes… The food, however, was different. Bilge and Lale had really made an effort to make some traditional Turkish dishes and I really feasted!

It was very nice and useful to meet the people whom I have E-mailed so often, and who fight for the same cause as we do.

You’ll understand that most of the conversation was about dogs and working for these dogs.

It soon turned out that these ladies, like Banu, did not limit their volunteer work to the shelter. Around their home they took care off a large number of stray dogs and cats. Bilge had about 15 cats and Gulsum had 39 cats at home and 26 at the office…

At one o’clock we were out of topics. Then we went to lie down for an hour. Since I was full of impressions, I didn’t get much sleep, of course…

At 2.30 we had to be on our way to the airport again. Bilge and Gulsum, who are with the EDHKD, took care of the check in and the negotiations of the transportation fees for the dogs. When all that was taken care of we had breakfast at the airport. Gulsum explicitly warned me not to let the cat, that I had taken as carry-on luggage, out of her cat basket, because I’d never be able to get her back inside…

However, she had not reckoned with Turkish customs. They insisted I took the little critter out of the basket, so that they could make sure there were no suspicious objects hidden inside. Despite all my begging and explaining, the basket had to be opened at all costs. As soon as I had opened the door, the cat started shrieking and clawing at me. I was relieved to notice that this changed the men’s minds. I was allowed to shut the door (afterwards I heard that right before me a passenger had also taken a cat through customs. She had had to take her cat out and the animal escaped. It took 10 minutes of searching, a great panic and many scratches before this cat was back in its basket again. I assume these gentlemen did not feel much like a second search).

As I was boarding I could see the dogs being carried on board the plane. The sedative they had been given would make sure that they’d make it through the journey without too much fuss.

The cat was quiet as a mouse during the whole flight. She was so quiet that, upon my return at Schiphol, I shook the basket a bit to make sure she was still alive…

The cat was not the only one who was quiet, by the way… The plane was full of sleeping Turkish elderly people. The lady next to me was sound asleep as well. I didn’t dare wake her, but I had to go to the bathroom so bad… that it gave me stomach aches. Lucky for me, a breakfast was served. When the steward woke my neighbour I was able to take the opportunity.

Finally, after four hours in which the only sound had come from the engines, we landed at Schiphol. Everyone woke up. All purses, bags, carts and sacks were picked up and the walk to the luggage area commenced.

The dogs were taken out of the plane and taken to the luggage area as “different luggage”. From there it is only about a hundred meters to the arrivals area. There a representative from a German organization was waiting for me to take the dogs to their new owners.

At noon I was back home. After a good shower I… went to sleep.