A very good friend of mine came to visit Istanbul last summer. She said: "Chile was dogs, Istanbul is cats". It's true. The sight of street animals in Istanbul is pretty striking, especially of cats. We claim to live among the crowd of 15 million people, but in fact there are more than us we share this city with. Cats most likely would take the lead in the league of extraordinary urban survivors populating the streets of Istanbul. They are anywhere and everywhere. They move into the abandoned buildings or take refuge in the back yards of them. They solicit vitrines of clothing shops posing with mannequins or take over book-full-of-stands at the second-hand-stores. They are active participants of our daily urban lives. They help with sorting through the trash and repurpose our left over food from waste stream to their stomachs. They live in centuries-old cemeteries, take walks in millenia-old historic monuments.
As they have adapted to us, we have adapted to them. In some neighborhoods it's almost second nature for some people to have dry cat food in their purses, almost every apartment building has a cup full with water for cats. In a city where people are tested constantly for their tolerance for each other, I believe, having to coexist in it with animals is causing a cultural shift in our urban experiences.
And that's just about cats. Then there are the many stories of stray dogs in the city. They are as persistent survivors as cats, however they are much more meditative in the way they inhabit the streets. They are calmer. If cats were the young generation with wit and energy, dogs would be the old, with pride and wisdom in their eyes.
They fascinate me with their silent acceptance of rules for living in an urban city. They know to stop at traffic lights, you can even meet them on the footbridges crossing to the other side of the street. They are as loyal as they're known for. Watching for each other, for you and for the city.
They are uncounted citizens we share this city with. They have made our streets home and can only survive with our compassion. I did not mention the dark side of their lives, but there are some great blogs, groups or organizations who have made their first priority to help our city-animals to escape that dark side. Here are some I have come across - please feel free to add to the list: