Managing Street Dogs and Cats in Turkey

The conference we spoke at in Bursa, Turkey was organized to help educate veterinarians from all over the country who work in animal shelters. Turkey has a huge problem with free-roaming dogs and cats and the country is struggling with ways to manage the problem.  No one knows how many street cats and dogs there are in Turkey. One estimate is that in Istanbul, a city of 11.3 million people, there are at least 150,000 free-roaming dogs.  Rabies is endemic in Turkish dogs and every year there are a small number of people who die from the bites of rabid dogs. The Turkish federal government passed a law a few years ago requiring cities to control the roaming dogs.  But as in America, few cities have all the resources they need to effectively control the loose animals. 

 Cultural issues further complicate things.  Many Turks are quite comfortable with, and even enjoy, having the free-roaming dogs around.  Free-roaming dogs have been documented in Istanbul for several hundred years at least, perhaps longer.  Today, dogs are found most anywhere – even in this patio area of a Starbucks in Istanbul









Furthermore, Turks are very much against euthanasia of dogs and cats for “population control”.  This is in contrast to the U.S. where there has been very little tolerance of free-roaming dogs and where euthanasia of healthy but unwanted dogs has been a common, although controversial, public health policy for at least 50 years. This is changing in the U.S. today as the numbers of free-roaming dogs has declined and as public sentiment about euthanasia of unowned dogs has evolved.

The strategy being tried in Turkey is trap-spay/neuter-vaccinate/treat and release.  Free-roaming dogs are picked up off the streets and taken to local shelters where they are spayed or neutered, vaccinated for rabies and other diseases, treated for minor illnesses, ear-tagged for identification, and then released back to the neighborhood where they were trapped. You can see one of the tagged street dogs in the photograph below.

 Managing Street Dogs and Cats in Turkey

It is hoped that the populations of free-roaming dogs will decline because they are not breeding and the small populations that are left will be healthier and will not present a public health hazard. This is based on the assumption that the majority of the free-roaming dogs come from the breeding of other free-roaming dogs, and not from owned dogs that escaped, or were dumped by their owners. Because population demographics are unavailable (e.g. no one knows where the street dogs come from) it is unclear if the Turkish strategy will be effective. We’ll have to wait and see.

What we learned from the conference is that control of free-roaming dogs and cats is a world-wide problem and that there is no one best strategy for dealing them.  Beyond pragmatic and scientific considerations, cultural heritage and ethical beliefs must be taken into consideration. These will influence the ways different peoples address their animal problems.     

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