"You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed."

-- The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943)


You may know about the dogs and the cats who live outdoors in Turkey; whether you are in the city or in a rural area, you can encounter free-ranging outdoor dogs and cats who have co-existed with people for hundreds of years. These animals are part of what makes Turkey unique in the eyes of many locals and tourists.

Most of these animals are not feral because they live together with people. They are also not strays because the locals take care of them; the local people have already formed strong bonds with these dogs, and feed them daily and care about their well-being and safety.

Turkey's unique position towards free-ranging outdoor dogs have been explored in the documentary Stray by Elizabeth Lo, accompanied by two insightful essays by Professor Marc Bekoff on Turkey's free-ranging dogs and why they have become international icons.


Here is what is currently happening in Turkey:


Despite years of co-existence, there is currently a heightened state of opposition towards dogs. Recently, the president proposed capturing all the dogs, putting them into shelters, and then killing those dogs who are not claimed within 30 days of coming into the shelter.

The purported goal of the proposal is to protect people from dogs and to reduce human-dog conflicts. However, the reality is that it is the dogs who need to be protected from people. Through the years, there have been countless reports of dogs being physically abused, tortured, injured, raped, and killed.

There are not enough shelters or rescues to house all the outdoor dogs in Turkey. In fact, most of us fear that the dogs may either be immediately killed after they are captured, or released in uninhabited areas without any food, water, or protection.

The parliament will be meeting soon to vote on this proposal. Although the proposal has not been legally accepted, it has already increased hatred towards dogs and encouraged people to freely kill dogs, as reported in media.


So, what can you do?


If you feel bothered by this situation, here are some petitions that you can check out by OIPA, Care2, and

*** (in Turkish)

You can also share these petitions and support the ongoing animal protection movement with "Sokaktayım Yanındayım" or "Sokak Hayvanları Sahipsiz Değil". #SokaktayımYanındayım #SokakHayvanlarıSahipsizDeğil

If there is anything you'd like to learn more about, or if you would like to help in other ways, feel free to get in touch with me.



Free-ranging outdoor dogs:


As a wildlife biologist and a naturalist who has worked with multiple species of insects, birds, and mammals, I know there are concerns that outdoor dogs and cats can harm wildlife. This topic is complex but I strongly think that speciesism makes everything more complicated than it needs to be, and every individual animal has a right to live their life regardless of what species they are.

Mass killing is never the solution!

In an ideal world, every single dog would live in a place where they are loved and cared for by their human friends, and where they are completely safe and able to fully enjoy their life. Unfortunately, I do not think this is the case anywhere in the world. Many dogs are either living in shelters or rescues without any guarantee that they will not be killed due to lack of space or resources, or as outdoor strays or ferals without any guarantee that they will be able to find food, water, shelter, or protection from humans.

Until a long-term solution is in operation to maximize the safety and the well-being of dogs in Turkey, it is absolutely essential to protect them from laws that focus on killing them instead of giving them an opportunity to live.



One of the major causes of human-dog conflicts in Turkey:


As a scientist who specializes in animal behavior, and as a Turkish citizen who has interacted with at least hundreds of free-ranging outdoor dogs throughout my life, here is my take on human-dog conflicts in Turkey.

From what I have seen over the years in the media, and from my own personal experiences with Turkish people who report challenges with outdoor dogs, it is clear that the majority of human-dog conflicts (with a few exceptions) are due to the dog being either intentionally or unintentionally provoked. Most of the exceptions seem to be related to intact male dogs forming large groups or becoming terriorial, which can be prevented by sufficient spaying and neutering efforts.

Unfortunately, the majority of the time when provoking is involved, it is intentional instead of unintentional. I have lost count of the number of videos I have seen where someone approaches a quietly sitting dog and starts to provoke him by kicking, hitting, shouting, throwing stones, etc.

Unintentional provoking also seems to be common, and happens when people do not know how to interact with dogs or read dogs' body language to understand when it is safe to approach. They may make direct prolonged eye contact with a dog whom they do not know, not realizing that this is actually an invitation for aggression. Or, they may have good intentions to interact, but either fail to ask for permission before touching the dog or engage in behaviors that startle the dog, such as screaming or making sudden movements towards the dog.


Here is a quick tip: The proper way to ask for permission from an outdoor dog you don't know is to 1) slowly approach the dog in a direction where he can see you, while making sure to avoid sustained direct eye contact, 2) announce your presence and good intentions by softly speaking, 3) hold out your hand and let the dog sniff it from a distance, and 4) proceed with touching the dog only if the dog does not turn his head away or move away. Bonus points if the dog wags his tail or initiates the physical contact by leaning into your hand!

Please do not chase after a dog who moves away when you try to initiate contact! By moving away, he has already made it abundantly clear that he does not want to interact. Use common sense; remember that nobody likes being startled or being touched by a stranger without permission. This is certainly true for animals too.



What are some solutions moving forward?


Spaying and neutering has been scientifically shown as an effective long-term solution.

However, spaying and neutering is not enough by itself to reduce human-dog conflicts. Education is essential. Parents can learn about human-dog interactions and teach their children to respect dogs and how to be safe around them -- not just for the safety of their children but also for the safety of the dogs too!

Veterinarians, dog behavior experts, volunteers, and locals who frequently feed outdoor dogs and are knowledgeable about individual dogs can all come together in regularly scheduled public events to provide training about dog behavior, how to read dog body language, and how to have safe human-dog interactions.

These educational events will have a positive effect on increasing people's awareness not only about dog behavior and safety, but also about dog well-being, hopefully increasing the probability that some of these dogs may be adopted.

All of these obviously need to happen in conjunction with laws that are fully reinforced with sufficient punishment for animal abuse, dog fights, illegal breeding farms, and buying /selling /abandoning animals as if they are a piece of property instead of a living conscious being with their own thoughts and emotions.

Ipek G. Kulahci, Ph.D.