Turkey invents The Natural Dog Shelter

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/august 2001:
ISTANBUL–The Natural Dog Shelter at the sprawling Kemerburgaz Rubbish Dump Project outside Istanbul has location in common with many American shelters, but not much else.

Now just a vast tract of superficially desolate hills, the dump was closed, capped with earth, and vented to prevent build-ups of flammable gas in mid-1999. A closer look at the site shows a thriving suburban wildlife ecology of small burrowing mammals and reptiles, birds, and feral pigs. Near the center stands a fast-growing plantation of evergreen trees. The trees are surrounded by chain link fence.

Inside the fence are more than 1,000 sterilized dogs, living peacefully in their self-chosen packs. They have some green-painted wooden doghouses, but mostly prefer to live in dens they dig for themselves.

The dogs are semi-feral, having mostly never shared human homes, yet many are also friendly, coming up to the fence for a pat or a stroke through the wire. Others stay slightly back. Almost all are a shade of tan that fades into the landscape only 10 to 20 feet away. As many as there are, the presence of the dogs among the young yet already more-than-head-high trees is not conspicuous. When they bark, the capped hills of trash swallow the sound.

Until two years ago these were trash-picking dogs. They lost their habitat when the dump was covered, seeming doomed to starvation or poisoning. “The Society for Animal Protection [SHKD] took on the task of feeding these dogs, vaccinating them against rabies and other illnesses, and neutering them,” explains shelter manager Kristina Eren. “Priority was given to pregnant females. If we had not done this, the dogs would have infiltrated the city and surrounding villages, searching for food, causing road accidents, and disturbing the human and animal residents. The Governor of Istanbul and the Mayor of Sisli donated a prefabricated building and a large recuperation tent. We set up a clinic with a generator, air conditioning, modern veterinary equipment, medicines, and 40 recovery cages,” at cost of about $40,000.

But the dogs were still considered a public menace by the neighboring village of Eyup. In June 1999 many dogs were poisoned. Animal activists embarrassed the village by showing the dogs’ remains to news media. “On the night of July 14, 1999,” Eren continues, “our two guards were made to march off at gunpoint. All of our equipment was either stolen or destroyed.” The neutering clinic was burned to the ground.

SHKD already had another neutering clinic at Goktilrk village, several miles away, opened in August 1998 with veterinary training help from Ginny Bischel, DVM, of Veterinarians for World Animal Health in San Diego, California. The Gokturk facility sfixes about 25 dogs per day.

“We decided to collect all the surviving dump dogs and take them there,” Eren recounts. At Gokturk the dogs were neutered and given any other necessary medical help. Then, because there was nowhere else to take them, SHKD fenced off 50,000 square meters of the former dump site and started the Natural Dog Shelter. A staff of six maintains 24-hour-a-day security. The fences are constantly patroled and maintained. Excrement is removed and buried. The SHKD veterinarians visit twice a week. Illnesses and injuries among the dogs are rare, but occasionally a dog is euthanized due to cancer or painful conditions of age.

“New dogs are kept in temporary holding areas before being introduced to the community, to prevent them from being attacked and killed at first encounter,” Eren explains. “After they adapt to the surroundings and the community gets to know them, they are released.”

Dogs who demonstrate bad behavior are occasionally removed from the enclosures and kept in isolation for several days–but Eren emphasizes that this is rarely necessary. “Very few dogs fight, compared with standard dog shelters,” she notes. “Usually a dog who is attacked is able to escape deep into the forest.”

The Natural Dog Shelter routines are designed to encourage small packs to establish territories within the forest, instead of having all the dogs compete for space along the fences. Dogs digging near the fence pose an escape risk. Eren acknowledges that escapes have occurred, mostly in the first few months that the shelter existed. Some of the escapees were roadkilled. Some may have been poisoned. Eventually the escapes almost stopped.

“It is quite difficult to estimate the cost per month of looking after a dog at the Natural Dog Shelter,” Eren says, “but we can say that the total cost of the forest shelter is less than half the cost of a standard dog shelter.” Eren, fellow shelter manager Semra Utebay, and chief vet Erkut Goren know the cost of running a conventional shelter first hand, because after rapid expansion in early 2000 to thwart a poisoning campaign in Istanbul, the Gokturk neutering clinic is now surrounded by outdoor runs and kennels for approximately 700 dogs, plus a few hundred cats.

“We are unable to rehome more than 1% of our dogs,” SHKD literature states. “We have rehomed some dogs as guard dogs to factories and prisons, and some handicapped dogs to animal lovers in Holland and Germany. “The only workable solution to the stray dog problem in Istanbul and other cities,” the SHKD believes, “is neuter-and-release,” as is done with feral cats in Britain and the parts of the U.S. with the most rapidly declining stray animal populations, and is the official but often disregarded national policy for reducing street dog numbers in India.

Robert Smith

The SHKD has attracted significant support. British clothing manufacturer Robert Smith, whose manufacturing plants are a major source of employment in Istanbul, in March 2001 produced and published a comprehensive report entitled The Solution To Istanbul’s Street Dog Problem: Effective, Humane, and Forever. Copies were distributed to hundreds of public decision-makers and all mass media. Smith is also among the biggest patrons of the Natural Dog Shelter and the Gokturk clinic/shelter. Other key patrons include the Alice BBDO advertising agency and Kocbank, a financial institution which recently donated a new Landrover for the use of the SHKD dogcatchers.

Zekeriyakoy, Gokturk, and Bahcekoy municipalities were the first to agree to neuter/return instead of poisoning street dogs. Volunteers led by Billie Minshall did the capturing and returning, then helped SHKD to neuter, vaccinate, and return all the dogs of Habibler, Pirincci, Ihsaniye, and Kisamandira. Eventually Besikitas municipality was persuaded to join the program–and paid about 10% of the cost of sterilizing about 200 dogs per month at a clinic that it provided.

But poisoning–practiced for more than 500 years, according to SHKD research–remains politically popular, even though it has never long suppressed the dog population. “The Turkish government policy at present,” says SHKD literature, “seems to be to fob off animal welfare campaigners with sweet words, order surreptitious poisoning to be done at night, and then deny having anything to do with it. Local authorities blame Istanbul Municipality. The municipality blames local authorities.”

Meanwhile, “Five nights a week official municipal vans and unmarked vans hired for the purpose distribute poisoned meatballs on the streets. The vans then collect as many dead bodies as they can, returning to their depots early in the morning. Inevitably many of the dogs we have neutered and vaccinated and many healthy pets die agonizing deaths.”

The killing is done in the name of rabies control. But of 7,000 dogs caught by SHKD in 1999-2000, says Smith, none were rabid.

SHKD believes that every dog in Istanbul could be vaccinated and sterilized to achieve total permanent elimination of street dogs and and risk of canine rabies transmission, for a first-year investment of $150,000 per municipality in the first year of a four-year program and $80,000 in each of the next three years.


There seem to be just 16 animal shelters in all of Turkey. Many, including those that get the most attention, are plagued by the same problems of disease, overcrowding, underfunding, and public intolerance that afflict shelters throughout the world.

Yet there are also other success stories, including the Sariyer Dog Rehabilitation Center, again near Istanbul, run by Lale Halimoglu and volunteers of the Homeless Animals and Nature Protection Society, and–far to the south–the Fethiye Friends of Animals Association shelter.

The original mission of the Homeless Animals and Nature Protection Society was extending humane education to schools around Istanbul. That work goes on, but in November 1999 the focus of the organization changed,  flyer distributed at the International Companion Animal Welfare Conference held at Istanbul in May 2001 explained, “when we found out about the shelter in Sariyer. It was a deserted site inhabited by about 50 animals who had been dumped there. They were nearly starving, some of them badly injured. We couldn’t pretend we had not seen them. We began to take food, first once a week and then every day. Then we asked the owner of the property, the Istanbul municipality, to let us run the place.

“In cooperation with the municipality,” the flyer continued, “we rebuilt the shelters and furnished the office, kitchen, and surgical unit. Now we have a rehabilitation shelter that meets international standards. We have five employees and two vets working full-time,” assisted by volunteers. We have 450 dogs.” the flyer said. “About half are puppies.”

The Homeless Animals and Nature Protection Society operates the shelter on a no-kill basis, hoping to find homes for as many dogs as possible. But the flyer added, “We are aware that saving a number of animals is not a solution to the immense stray dog problem in Istanbul. Our main goal is to cooperate with the Sariyer municipality in neutering, vaccinating, and putting back” street dogs, who are often quasi-community pets.


The Fethiye Friends of Animals Association, founded by Perihan Agnelli, has similar ambitions. The FFAA shelter combines a 60-kennel no-kill shelter of conventional design with a 43,000-square-meter compound similar to the Natural Dog Shelter, says Agnelli.

“We are a bona fide Turkish association with members from Turkey, England, and Germany,” Agnelli proudly states. “We are fortunate in having the support and active help of the mayor of Fethiye. The council also provides us with water, electricity, and a daytime warden. We are also planning an educational program and activities to involve school children, to teach them about the correct treatment of animals. Our ultimate aim is the adoption into caring families of all of our dogs, whether in Turkey or worldwide.”

Few pets live indoors in Turkey. A traditional Islamic abhorence of dogs as unclean is often mentioned by animal rescuers, but while some people stone and poison dogs, most Turks seem to tolerate them, at least, and Turks have been famous for centuries for a fondness of cats. At night Istanbul is alive with cats. Sterilizing cats is unheard of, but cat-feeders are ubiquitous.

The actual obstacles to pets living indoors may be mostly practical. Most urban Turks and even many villagers live in apartments, upstairs above shops, without direct outdoor access. The limited space is shared with extended families. And the traditional Turkish rugs that still tend to cover stone or cement floors are not compatible with pet messes, especially in homes without washing machines and sometimes without running water. Homes that do have running water often must cope with a limited supply.

While the more successful Turkish animal rescue groups fight cruelty, ignorance, official indifference, and prejudice, others just struggle for survival. Istanbul Animal Lovers Association founder Suna Develioglu, for instance, has several times written to ANIMAL PEOPLE about her efforts to operate a private no-kill shelter, and is a familiar face at the International Companion Animal Welfare Conferences, sharing photographs of dogs and cats she has rescued, hoping to attract outside support.

Outreach on behalf of the smaller and more remote organizations is also a part of the SHKD and FFAA mission, assisted by overseas charities such as the Mayhew Animal Home of London, England, which sponsor particular projects.

As the 2001 International Companion Animal Welfare Conference convened in Istanbul, for example, SHKD volunteer Sina Karadag and Ellen Moshenberg of the Cat Welfare Society of Israel tried to raise help via the Internet for the Marmaris Cat Shelter, informally founded in 1997 by Jeannie Thirkill, who started out just feeding stray cats circa 1997 and only later learned the necessity of sterilization.

After six months, says the <www.marmaris-info.com> web site, Thirkill combined efforts with the management of the Lidya hotel in nearby Armutalan, which had become a popular dumping site for unwanted cats. The hotel built a modest shelter, and a German veterinary team helped to stabilize the number of cats under care at about 250. Then, however, the shelter location was condemned to make way for an apartment complex. Unable to find a new site, Thirkill appealed for an extension of the deadline to relocate and at latest report had been given until mid-August.

Association for the Protection of Street Animals [ASKOD] vice president Hulya Alpgiray wrote to ANIMAL PEOPLE twice in June on behalf of struggling shelters, apparently referred by Marco and Adile Pannicke of the Animal Protection Group Ankara. ANIMAL PEOPLE had assisted the Animal Protection Group Ankara in early 2000 in persuading city officials to refrain from poisoning street dogs, and instead allow theAPGA to vaccinate and sterilize them.

“ASKOD was founded in 1997,” Alpgiray began. “Since then we have been trying to save street animals in Aliaga/Izmir from being poisoned or shot. At first we gathered the animals in a sheltering area which was given to us temporarily by the Air Force. We did our best to renovate the buildings within our limited budget. We picked up the dogs and cats with our private cars and also carried their food, which one of the biggest factories was providing.

“After a while, unfortunately, we were unable to find enough financial support to pay the veterinarian and the shelter attendant. Therefore, with our local governor’s help, we persuaded the municipality to take over the operation. The municipal veterinarian has now run the shelter for two years, from time to time poisoning the animals and not finding enough food for the impounded ones.”

Alpgiray said the ASKOD wanted to begin sterilizing street animals to prevent future poisoning, but could not find volunteer vets, and as of June 6 had just $160 to work with. Three weeks later Alpgiray wrote again to forward a similar report from a Ms. Zerrin Taskin about conditions at a municipal pound near Yenikoy-Gerenkoy, a village in Eski-Foca. The facility houses about 200 dogs at a time.

“It seems there is no one in charge,” Alpgiray said, although the pound has “a man who carelessly takes care of the dogs, paid for by the local governor’s social fund. The dogs are poorly fed, only once every three days, and for this reason the babies are cannibalized. Medical care is neglected. No sterilization has been done. Eski Foca municipality prefers poisoning,” over trying to maintain a proper pound, Zerrin Taskin charged via Alpgiray’s translation.

The villages

Both Perihan Agnelli of FFAA and Robert Smith of SHKD reminded International Companion Animal Welfare Conference delegates, in identical words, that “Turkey is not just Istanbul and Ankara.”

While the Istanbul/Ankara corridor and the Maramara/Mediterranean coasts tend toward European levels of affluence and development, the eastern two-thirds of Turkey have the harsher Central Asian climate, more poverty, much less commerce, and no humane organizations–or none, anyhow, known beyond their villages.

Yet the young Turkish humane movement has roots in the eastern villages as well as in cosmopolitan affluence. Istanbul translator Cemal Atila, for instance, came to Istanbul from the east nearly 20 years ago to pursue his education. He stayed, and later brought his mother to live with him. Becoming a committed environmentalist, Atila edits the eco-movement magazine Ates Hirsizi.

As a Kurd, Atila is also keenly aware of the ethnic and humanitarian issues which have often bitterly and sometimes violently divided Turkey. Atila has no pets; the sixth floor apartment he shares with his mother would be as awkward an environment for dogs and cats as any other.

Atila is, however, a vegetarian. He became a vegetarian out of moral conviction, and has persisted in a meatless diet despite his mother’s skepticism. He does not imagine that either complete peace, prosperity, social justice, or humane values will come to all of Turkey overnight–but when he speaks of his longterm hopes, he anticipates that a spreading humane ethic could become the foundation for the rest.

Children who grow up loving dogs and cats, Atila believes, are less likely to exploit and mistreat other humans. Rabies must be eliminated through vigorous vaccination programs, dog and cat sterilization must be introduced, and people must be taught to be unafraid of dogs, Atila agrees. And he thinks it all can be done.

Contacts in Turkey

Animal Protection Group Ankara, c/o Marco & Adile Pannicke, Farabisokak 20/13, Ankara 0600, Turkey; telephone 90-312-468-9678; <IPannicke@t-online.dec>.

ASKOD (Association for the Prevention of Street Animals), Ozguven Tic., Istiklal Cad. #96/C, Aliaga, Izmir 35800, Turkey; <pupsi@superonline.com>.

Ates Hirsizi, c/o Cemal Atila, Dostlukyurdu Sok.Selimbey, Apt. #8, Cemberlitas, Istanbul 34000, Turkey; telephone 90-212-518-2562; <mexpe@hotmail.com>.

Fethiye Fethiye Hayvan Dostlari Dernigi (Fethiye Friends of Animals Association), c/o Perihan Agnelli, Degirmenbasi Mevkii, Orman Deposu Karsisi, Fethiye, Mugla, Turkey; telephone 90-252-613-5825; <ragnelli@superonline.com>.

Karadeniz Sahili Sahipsiz Hayvanlari Koruma Dernegi (Homeless Animals and Nature Protection Society), Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyesi Hayvan, Rehabilitasyon Merkezi, Kocatas Mevkii, Kilicpinar, Istanbul, Turkey; telephone 90-212-271-7717; fax 90-212-287-0666; <halimoglu@superonline.com>.

Istanbul Hayvan Sevenler (Animal Lovers Association), c/o Suna Develioglu, Bahariye Cad. 68, Kadikoy, Istanbul 81300; telephone 90-216-349-4709; fax 90-216-347-5704; <nesedilber@superonline.com>.

Marmaris Cat Shelter, c/o Lidya Hotel, Siteler Mah. #130, Marmaris 48700, Turkey; <Jeannie@marmaris-info.com>; <www.marmarisinfo.com>.

SHKD (Society for the Protection of Stray Animals), Cengiz Topel Mah. Ferhat Sok., Bozbey Apt. #2/2, Etiler, Istanbul, Turkey; telephone 90-212-2657-732; fax 90-212-2656-629; <shkda@superonline.com>.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.