In the 21st century, travelers, social media, and concerned friends began to note that the tightwad travelingcookie had begun bequeathing her “fortune” on baked goods, smoothies, and ice cream to ensure their continued presence.
Similarly, from poetry to guidebooks, one cannot read anything about Istanbul from the past few hundred years without reading a commentary on the city’s beloved and nurtured strays despite the government’s gentrification efforts. The issue is one that has had the government and its constituents battling it out for years.
It’s a brouhaha.
When I landed in Turkey, the dogs (and cats, but that’s a WHOLE other story, don’t get me started) seemed like Chevy Chase in the 80’s (inescapable). Seeing stray dogs everywhere got me all existential. Why am I here? Why are you here? Why is anybody here? I think it was Jean-Paul Sartre who once said… how do you spell spell Sartre?
I’m told that it is like this everywhere in Europe but…It still seems so strange.
They just lie there. In the middle of the street. Curled up in little, non-imposing balls…
All…normal. And you know what? People like it that way. They feed the animals. They don’t wish to take ownership for the animals or offer them homes but they do go out and buy dog food. They set up little dishes outside their stores. They set their trash on the curb and wait for the regulars. My first thought upon seeing them was…well…THESE DOGS ARE FAT! And a whole new world of cultural “your mamma” jokes at my disposal.
I mock what I don’t understand.
In doing a little reading on the subject, many of the practicing Muslims probably believe dogs to be unclean and therefore undesirable as pets. However, deeply rooted in Islamic tradition is a deep gratitude for, sense of stewardship of, and love for all creatures of the earth — hence the desire to leave out makeshift beds and clean water for the lovable strays.
In 1910, Sultan Abdülaziz rounded up and deported all the dogs of Istanbul to Hayirsiz, a little doggie Alcatraz in the Marmara Sea. Tens of thousands of dogs there were left to starve and die out (and how sick and inhumane is that?!); however, an earthquake hit Turkey shortly thereafter. A sign of the divine displeasure, the dogs were brought back. The government has been doing a pretty good job at appeasing animal activists and keeping the stray population down ever since. They’ve been taking dogs off the streets one-by-one and vaccinating and neutering them and then tagging them to keep the population under control.
Which leads me to my story. I am currently out of control, of sorts…For sweets.
I do not know what happened. I used to be different. I used to be the one out of my family that could say, “no thanks” to an extra slice of pie, “but mother, I will have some more cod liver oil please?”
This need for sweets has been coming on over the past year. Starting slow with a scoop of Creamery ice cream after shifts, a bag of cookies for my study breaks, and snowballing to my current traveling state of new-bakery-a-day.
And then it all turned against me all at once. It was the day I learned that when you’re in a foreign country, you should probably learn the word for caution and to not take street signs as funny little pictionary clues for the clueless American: I got chased by a pack of stray dogs.
Yep. Those lovable dogs, when they’re sitting on the side of a road next to this sign…:
(In case you missed it, here’s a better one of the pack that I took later from a taxi cab)
…These kinds of dogs are not lovable.
Yes, the day I used a bakery stop to break up my daily run (that included one slice of cake and nine dollars of baklava) was the day I learned the Turkish word for “warning” or “please note” (dikkat).
It was the day that I also probably was the cause of Istanbul’s five mile long traffic congestion because I happened to run into the street to use on-coming cars as shields between me and a few Cujos.
It was the day that I mentally committed myself to those little brain exercises that strengthen your reaction time. When a pack of dogs runs at you all at once while you go, ” oh look, more doggies. Oh look how they run and play together. Towards me. With teeth. What are they doing? OH HECK. WHAT ARE THEY DOING? Where are the Paraguayans?” you learn to take a hard look at yourself.
It was the day I momentarily became a cat person.
Luckily, those dogs were more wimpy than anything and were slighted by on-coming traffic. Their little attempt on my life left only a small bruise on my finely carved left calf.
However I did take a hard look at myself to see if I was indeed the kind of person to risk her life for a little sugar (of the literal kind).
But this was an outlier of an event. Don’t be scared of stays in Istanbul. The dogs of Istanbul are beloved and they’ve earned it (in the loosest sense of the word “earn”). They curl up on street corners and don’t bug you. Normally the dogs are so dopey that you have to love them. I don’t think I have any backbone to save myself against a dog attack, but I believe my little chase was more of an anomaly and specific for these out-of-town dogs who live on the outskirts of the city clearly marked by the caution sign above their territory.
I lived to tell the tale and I found a great little bakery near the Çıragan bus stop in Ortaköy called…Sweet Temptations.
Because I’ve gone on a long enough rant, I’ll just let pictures and the fact that I escaped a snarling pack of devil dogs for the risk of cake speak for itself.
Gophers, ya great git! The gophers! The little brown furry rodents! A shout out to my good friend Bo who’ll be going on his mission in a couple days and who would not have missed a single Chevy Chase allusion in this post. Bless your heart.