Cats We Saw in Turkey

During our trip to Turkey in September of 2010 to speak to a conference of shelter veterinarians, we made it a point to observe the "street" dogs and cats that were abundant.  Free-roaming cats seem to be as common, or even more numerous, as free roaming dogs in some areas of Turkey.  We saw them in Istanbul and several small towns we visited.  Some were probably owned, such this cat sleeping outside the jewelry shop in the Grand Bazaar,







while others were clearly free-roaming, unowned cats.  The terminology distinctions we discussed in our article on free-roaming dogs is probably useful in describing free-roaming cats.  There are owned but free-roaming cats, un-owned neighborhood/village cats, and feral cats. 

We saw no cats that could be described as feral, as all of those we saw were tolerant of people and some sought attention and food from people.  As we sat in an outdoor restaurant one day, we saw one yellow tabby cat approach a near-by table begging for food.  One of the waiters picked the cat up and carried him outside the restaurant only to have the cat return two minutes later.  This cycle went on two more times before the cat gave up.  Clearly the cat wasn’t afraid of people, and the waiters were patient with the begging cat. It is unclear whether the cat was owned or not. We saw the same tolerance for the free-roaming cats in many places.

At a mosque we visited, we found a number of cats on the grounds, many around food and water dishes put out by people.  We took food to a group of hungry kittens in a park which, as you can see from the photo, were not shy about taking food from our hands. 








This large number of neighborhood cats probably gathered at the mosque because of the food supply, and in general they seemed quite tolerant of each other.  This is in contrast to the territorial marking, threats and fights we often see in owned cats in the U.S. that are allowed outside.  The only aggression we saw was around the food sources themselves, where some cats would chase off others in order to have priority access to the food.   You can see the calico in the photo charging the gray tabby who was eating food Suzanne had put down.

 Cats We Saw in Turkey






Descriptions of feral cat colonies also describe high levels of tolerance of other cats.  Perhaps territories are not seen because the areas aren’t defensible against so many other cats.

Another interesting observation we made was that the roaming cats and dogs seemed quite tolerant of each other. In the photo below you see me crouching between a street cat and dog separated by only a few feet.  When we discovered them, they were both sleeping close to each other. 







Another time we saw a dog and several cats foraging out of the same trash can. We never saw a dog chase a cat or a cat run away from a dog. Although we did see a cat swat and hiss at a dog, for no reason we could see – the dog was not threatening the cat.

 Cats We Saw in Turkey







Some chasing of cats probably does occur around food sources but clearly the animals aren’t behaving as natural enemies.  Of course, the ‘natural enemies’ idea is a myth.  Cats and dogs aren’t born enemies but have to learn who their friends and enemies are.  If the roaming cats and dogs encounter each other from a very early age and have no frightening experiences, they are likely to be tolerant of each other.

So what did we learn about the street cats of Turkey?  First, many are unlikely to be truly feral as they tolerated people.  Of course there could be a much more secretive population which we never encountered.  Some cats may be owned but most are probably neighborhood cats. Second, they are quite tolerant of people, even begging from them, they’re tolerant of other cats, at least in some situations, and they’re tolerant of neighborhood dogs in many situations.  Clearly cat social behavior isn’t fixed and can be quite flexible depending on the situation.   

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