A new deal for street dogs on the Turk beach where a Greek god turned dog to win a girl
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2002:
FETHIYE, Turkey–Known for a balmy climate, golden beaches,
and ruins representing many of the most important episodes in the
past 3,000 years of human civilization, the coastal Mediterranean
town of Fethiye, Turkey, has since Roman times been a popular
The work of the Fethiye Friends of Animals Association may
also some day be seen as historically significant. The FFAA is
operating the first successful sterilization-and-release program to
control street dogs in Asia Minor. The FFAA program has already
become a regionally influential demonstration of how to changing the
often cruel dynamics of the Turkish animal/human relationship. As
the program expands, it could become a catalyst for changing the
prevailing models of animal care and control throughout western Asia.
Street dogs are an everyday aspect of life throughout
Turkey–but instead of keeping costly fulltime animal control
departments, Turkish coastal communities typically conduct yearly
dog roundups, just before the tourist season. Some dogs are
trucked into the mountains and dumped, to fend for themselves.
Others are shot or poisoned.
“If killing solved the problem, then there would not be any
more street dogs, but they are back again every year, even before
the tourists go home. Killing and removal just does not work,” says
FFAA founder Perihan Agnelli. “This whole idea of catching the dogs
and letting them out again has been a revolution in Turkey.”
The method is essentially the same as that of the Animal
Birth Control programs to reduce street dog populations underway in
most major cities of India, the “No kill, no shelter” programs in
Costa Rica, and the neuter/return approach to feral cat control
promoted by Alley Cat Allies and many other groups in the U.S.. In
Turkey, however, there is the additional twist that dogs are
relatively rarely kept as pets, and–largely from fear of
rabies–are often abhored as unclean.
The work of the FFAA is therefore only partly a demonstration
of humane no-kill animal control. As important, it is a
demonstration of the benefits of practicing community-wide kindness
and tolerance toward dogs.
The Fethiye neuter/release program began in 2000, initially
targeting an estimated 500 street dogs. Each dog was sterilized,
vaccinated, treated for parasites, registered, and ear-tagged,
before being returned to the street wherever he or she was found.
The tags– orange, white, blue, or yellow–represent the year in a
three-year cycle in which each dog must be recaptured for
A total of 700 Fethiye strays were sterilized during the
first two years of the project, among whom surprisingly many
subsequently won adoptive homes, leaving the streets with
unprecedentedly few dogs. The tags seemed to have the effect of
being “safe conduct” passes, telling Fethiye residents that the
bearers could be befriended without risk.
“My goal was always to create harmony between animal and
human–and with less aggressive dogs, people are becoming more
attached to them,” Agnelli explains.
A tour of the city reveals the success of the project. Rug
salesmen and kebab shop owners all say the same thing: They have
never seen so few dogs in Fethiye.
The Fethiye street dog program is helping tourism, too.
Rose from England used to visit Fethiye yearly, but stopped after
learning of the yearly killing of dogs.
“I couldn’t bear it,” she told me, “because I became so
attached to the puppies, but when I returned they were all gone.”
After several years away, Rose spent the entire summer of
2002 in Fethiye.
There is also an ecological benefit from the Fethiye street
dog program. In early 2000 a brochure describing the Fethiye beach
loggerhead sea turtle conservation and research project reported
that, “Stray dogs who can open the nests and eat the eggs were
chased away, but this was typically a hopeless struggle because
there are too many dogs.”
Turtle project director Yakup Kaska of Pamukkale University
now takes a very different view. “There is a big difference,” Kaska
says. “Before, we often had more than 20 dogs on the beach digging
up and eating the turtle eggs. Now we see maybe one.”
The Fethiye street dog program began when new mayor Behcet
Saatci, distraught over the yearly killing of dogs, asked Perihan
Agnelli to help. A retired business executive and environmentalist,
Agnelli had recently settled into Fethiye, bringing with her a
reputation for getting things done. She had no background in animal
welfare, but had a knack for problem-solving analysis.
Saatci wanted Agnelli to set up a shelter to keep the dogs
off the streets. Agnelli quickly vetoed that idea.
“I told him that it has to be neuter-and-return or no deal,”
Agnelli said. She explained to Saatci that merely impounding and
sheltering dogs would only open the way for more dogs to move into
the vacated territory. This would lead to the costly cycle that
Costa Rican “No kill, no shelter” pioneer Gerardo Vicente, DVM,
describes as “Shelters become concentration camps and then become
extermination camps,” when inevitably they fill up while animals at
large continue to breed.
“The reality is that we have no right to put the dogs in
prison,” mayor Saatci agreed. “I admit we had our doubts,” Saatci
admits. “We had many critics at the beginning, but once they saw
for themselves the results, the problem solved itself.”
Saatci donated 43 hectares of land to the project. He
ordered the construction of the Fethiye shelter, which chiefly
handles dogs awaiting surgery and in post-surgical recovery. It
includes a reception area, two operating rooms, storage space, a
kitchen, and kennels which includea large kennel for adult dogs, a
smaller kennel for puppies and mothers, and a quarantine station for
sick dogs. The shelter population is kept at 60. The animals are
free to run and play inside spacious exercise areas, to rest in
quiet shaded areas, and to use a swimming pool designed for dog
Only a few behaviorally problematic dogs are kept individually penned.
Agnelli raises the operating budget of about $65,000 per
year. She persuaded local veterinarians to help the shelter get
started. The center today is self reliant, with its own fulltime
The FFAA program has won national media attention, producing
news clippings that cover a side wall in the center office. It has
also drawn the notice of the mayors of other communities, who
likewise seek better ways of controlling street dogs.
“I am not an animal lover,” Agnelli often states. “An animal
lover could not have done this.” She credits business sense rather
than compassion for her accomplishments, though she takes no payment
for her position as chair and director of the program, while her
husband volunteers as their driver.
Agnelli also credits her Turkish roots, in a nation eager to
find native role models, and her ability to communicate. Her charm
and elegance easily cut through obstacles that thwart other animal
With the recent acquisition of a bus outfitted as a mobile
clinic, the FFAA team has began reaching out to neighboring
communities and going after their dogs as well. In just over 10
months–and only four months since obtaining the bus, the FFAA has
sterilized 1,300 dogs within a 100-mile radius.
“We had to take care of the surrounding areas because once
Fethiye is done, dogs will start coming from neighboring towns,”
Agnelli explains. “My goal is to do this in all Turkey,” she adds,
explaining that she believes this will be possible by using the
Fethieye outreach program to train people to work in other areas.
That job has already begun in Mugla, the regional capital,
whose mayor was so impressed by the Fethiye success that in October
2001 he invited the FFAA to train local veterinarians in high-speed,
high-volume sterilization surgery, and set up a similar
“I am happy for this,” says Agnelli. “It is a step in the
right direction, but they are moving too slowly,” so far. “If you
wait too long,” she emphasizes, “then the dogs give birth and you
cannot catch up. It has to be done quickly,” to reach the 70%
sterilization rate that halts street dog population growth and
convinces observers that the approach is valid.
With fewer untreated street dogs left to catch, Agnelli and
the FFAA have begun thinking about the inevitable second phase of
their effort: controlling the growth of the feral cat population,
which typically explodes in communities that eliminate street dogs
without eliminating their food sources.
The staff is interested, Agnelli notes. “The boys recently
went out searching for dogs and after all day they came back with
maybe five,” Agnelli recalls, “and then one of the boys said ‘We
can’t keep this place running with no dogs–how about the cats?'”
Though the FFAA has begun collecting cats, Agnelli admits
that seriously addressing feral cat overpopulation is still in
Meanwhile, before winter, Agnelli and the FFAA hope to host
a conference of regional mayors. “I want to bring all of them here
to Fethiye,” she says. “I don’t blame them for killing the dogs
because it is the only control method they know. They are reasonable
people. I need to bring them here to see for themselves that
The visiting mayors will see street dogs, but few. They
will see docile dogs, due to their loss of sexual drive, and more
acceptance of dogs by townsfolk who in the past were terrified of
dogs. Agnelli may tell them about a boy the FFAA team met while
touring with the mobile clinic, who was as afraid of stray dogs as
anyone. After watching the team operate and being encouraged to
touch the dogs and brush their hair, he adopted a puppy.
Fethiye was founded, in myth, when a Greek god won the
affection of a beautiful local girl by changing himself into a
lovable dog. Agnelli believes that myth can become the cultural
basis for a lastingly better animal/human relationship.
Fethiye Hayvan Dostlari Dernigi) c/o Perihan Agnelli, Degirmenbasi
Mevkii, Orman Deposu Karsisi, Fethiye, Mugla, Turkey; telephone