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Dogs looking for friends

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

Istanbul March 2004

Being the initiator of the StraydogsCampaign, I had been thinking long and hard before deciding whether or not I should go visit the S.H.K.D. shelter in Istanbul. I wasn’t sure if I could deal with everything I would learn and see once I was there. But finally I decided to go, together with my daughter and another volunteer of the StraydogsCampaign.


I will spare you the details of a chaotic trip, of a good hotel, the superb food or the many tourist attractions which we only saw from the outside. In short, we arrived at our hotel at 9 pm where Banu Erguder of the S.H.K.D. was welcoming us. During a dinner together, we got acquinted and plans were made for the days ahead of us.

On Saturday, Banu showed us around to show us how many stray dogs there are in Istanbul and what they have to do to survive. At the time of our visit to Istanbul, it was election time and as a result of it, the municipal dogcatchers were working overtime. Also the poisoning actions were increased…all in order to create the illusion of a “clean” city. Because of this, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of stray dogs. Also, in such a large and busy city like Istanbul, the stray dogs aren’t very noticable for the average tourist. Like in The Netherlands, you do see dogs outside playing, walking about and whether these dogs belong to the person(s) that are also walking there…or that the dogs just mingle in the crowd, is hard to tell. Untill you realise that a family pet dog could never run loose on the street because it would be poisened or caught by the dogcatchers. So after this realisation, you come to understand that every dog you see, is a stray dog.


In certain districts the people living there do care for the stray dogs. They feed them and alarm the people that are dedicated to the protection of the animals when one of the dogs seems to be ill. Also the people living in these districts will hide the stray dogs when the municipal dogcatchers are around.

Banu herself, for example, takes care of several stray dogs in the district of Florya. She knows exactly which dogs belong there and all dogs are neutered and vaccinated. If she spots a new dog in the territory, she’ll approach it with some food. As she feeds the dog, she’ll whistle an unique tune so that eventually, the dog will associate the tune with “food” and “safe”.

This way, the dogs are not restricted to one particular feeding place. It’s the tune whisled that they respond to and have learned to understand. This enables Banu to change feeding places everytime in order to diminish the risk of the dogs being caught or poisened.

Next we went to a restaurant where 3 stray dogs were hanging around. The dogs were condoned by most, but certainly not petted or treated affectionately. The dogs are fed with the left-overs from the restaurant and the personal will call the S.H.K.D. if something is wrong with one of the dogs. In order to keep this “arrangement”, frequent visits from a S.H.K.D. member are needed since the restaurant personal mainly seems to do this for the people of the S.H.K.D. and not so much for the dogs.

How harsh the life of a stray dog can be, became clear to us when we visited the practice of a veterinary surgeon, a former employee of the S.H.K.D. In front of his practice were a couple of crates containing several victims of the harsh street life a stray dog has to face.

One dog had its ears cut off till his skull, only for fun…. Another stray dog with severe bite wounds and a broken leg and a motherless puppy. All being outcasts that were getting some of the most basic treatment here, for free.



Contrary to the vets here, a vet in Istanbul can hardly manage. This particular vet has a small store beside his practise, where he sells all kinds of dogsupplies. The profits are used for his own survival and for treating the stray dogs..


After our visit to the vet, Banu had to go to a meeting, so we had some time to go to the old town and look around some.

Sunday started with a visit to the S.H.K.D. office. It’s a very well used, multi functional office. It’s actually an appartment where 1 room is used as the office, another room is used by Banu as bedroom when it’s too late for her to travel back to her own appartment (which is 6 days a week) and the 3rd room is used as a bedroom for either foreign visitors or for trainees at the S.H.K.D. shelter.

After showing us the office, Banu took us to the place where she would like to realise the new, commercial veterinary clinic of the S.H.K.D. The plan is to have the vets work for the S.H.K.D. and to earn some money this way. Money which would be used to pay the vets of course but also money used for a “free neuter and spay” program, and to finance the organisation’s lobby activities. Another idea is to maybe also start a commercial kennel and perhaps a store. All this of course in an effort to try and earn as much money possible for the activities of the S.H.K.D.


Our next stop was at the forrestshelter. This former rubbish dump is closed off with a fence on the streetside of the terrain. Once through this fence, you enter a large, uninhabited, somewhat hilly grassland. This is where approximately 100 stray dogs live. These dogs depend on the S.H.K.D. for their food and medical care. It was striking to see how sweet these dogs were. Some of them being eager to be petted, some others more shy and staying at a safe distance but none of the dogs were aggressive or being threatening. Since these dogs have a fair amount of space, there’s hardly any fighting amongst the dogs.


At the end of the road is the entrance gate, leading to the actual forrestshelter and the near municipal shelter.

To start with the latter; a right-thinking person could never allow for these dogs to spent their lifes in this place. Brick buildings consisting of white tiled cots and a white tiled outdoor place, surrounded by a high fence. Each of these cot’s contain 4 to 5 dogs. A dog in the municipal shelter has an estimated chance of 90% to spend the rest of his life there.

The S.H.K.D. takes care of these dogs in the municipal shelter and in return, they can use the empty cot’s to temporary place the dogs from the Gokturk shelter, which had to be evicted. The dogs can now wait here for their rehoming.

On this same terrain, there’s also a ruin that probably was used as a clinic, a long time ago. The S.H.K.D is hoping they can rebuild their neuter clinic, which also has to be removed from the Gokturk terrain, at this spot.

Needless to state that I was reliefed to be able to leave this dreary place and to move on to the actual forrestshelter.


The forrestshelter is best imagined as a fenced piece of land, split in 2 by a long gravelroad (the so called corridor). To the left and right of this corridor, there are seperate fenced area’s (partitions) in which the dogs live in groups.

The dogs living in the area of the former rubbish dump, will also use this corridor, they come and go as they please. These free living dogs, stay close to the forrestshelter because they rely on the food and it’s a fairly safe place to be. To me, they seemed to have a pretty decent life.

In the actual forrestshelter, every seperate partition contains about 50 dogs. However, a pack of dogs normally would hold 25 dogs maximum. Therefore, there are in fact 2 packs of dogs living in 1 area, meant for just 1 pack of dogs. This is the main reason for the fights that will occur amongst the dogs.


There are several uninhibated kennels which are used to seperate fighting dogs, if needed. Unfortunately, in groups this size, there’s always one dog being the “underdog”…

During our visit we simply entered the different partitions and we had a lot of fun and a wonderful time petting and playing with the dogs. Every single dog seemed to be in a healthy and cared for shape. They obviously adored the people of the S.H.K.D., the people they had come to know as their care givers. Some of the dogs just went their own way, kept some distance due to previous little interaction with well meaning humans.

Since it is financial simply impossible for the S.H.K.D. to look after and care for so many dogs in a humane way, we just have to find as many friends (and consequently money) as we can.

Robert Smith, the founder of the S.H.K.D. and still the main financial sponsor, has clearly stated that after this summer, he will only be able and willing to pay for the cost of 200 dogs. But he did promiss that every dog who has found a friend, can stay at the shelter.

So we have our work cut out for us, finding as many friends as we can. And of course, several 100’s of dogs need to be rehomed in the near future to ensure enough and adequate living space for the dogs that will stay in the shelter, so there will be no more fighting amongst the dogs.

Finally we went to the Gokturk shelter. At least 75% of the shelter has already been demolished and the construction material needed for the villa’s that are being build, is already waiting to be used. The house where they used to keep the cats, is now in use by one of the people of the shelter and in his yard he keeps several dogs that are waiting to be rehomed and couldn’t stay in what’s left of the shelter.


The kennels in the Gokturk shelter may not be better then the ones we saw at the municipal shelter but they sure were much more dog friendly. They offer more space and there’s not just sterile tiles. No matter where we looked, there were dogs…. every space was occupied. There’s a small building which containes an office, a kitchen and an operating room. It’s not much but when you have nowhere to go, it must be devestating to have to leave what little you have behind. The dogs in Gokturk were well taken care of and they have a chance to be rehomed in not too long hopefully. Here, at the Gokturk shelter, is also where dogs that need medical attention for any reason, are being kept and taken care of. One dog was brought here to safely, in all peace and quiet, give birth to her puppies. Apart from the fact wheter it’s wise or not to put more puppies into this world where there already are so many stray dogs, it remains very sad that one has to bring his dog to Gokturk to have the pups in safety. Another dog was recovering after a surgical procedure at one of his ears…a dog lucky enough to have found a friend.

Next we went to go see the place where the food for the dogs is prepared. A meal is made out of boiled, grinded chickennecks, mixed together with bread, rice and dry dog food. Our last visit was to the dogs that were going to fly with us the next day, to be delivered to their new owners.

Monday, 10 am . We’re meeting Semra at the airport. She’s brought the dogs that will fly with us. I recognised several of the dogcoats the dogs were wearing from the first shipment of dogcoats that I brought with me to Istanbul , thanks to all the knitters 🙂 The dogs were a little anxious in their crates but the pills they had been given to sedate them some, were starting to kick in and soon the dogs calmed down. The thought that they were on their way to new loving homes, made the discomfort the dogs felt, more then worthwhile.

Once landed in The Netherlands, we could hand over the dogs to their excited and happy new owners… A new life begins 🙂