Naturally, as any Global Engagement Fellow would do, I got really excited about going to a new country. So over break, I dove into google-ing and researching the various cities and historical landmarks that I would get to visit. And while I am excited about getting to see the Blue Mosque and Ataturk’s Mausoleum, something that particularly caught my interest was the prevalence of cats in Istanbul. There are stray cats. All over the place. And everyone’s fine with it. They feed them. The cats are nice. People can pet them. Obama pet one when he visited Haghia Sophia.
Okay, okay, I know this post has been ridiculous so far. But it has a point I promise. The point is that the citizens of Istanbul have a very different approach to street animals, a difference based in cultural differences.
In many countries, people buy or adopt specific animals, that they then care for by themselves and consider their own (although many cat owners may tell you that the cat owns them). In Istanbul, however, the community owns all of the street cats. According to an article on Worldcrunch, during one particularly hot summer, the local radio stations actually encouraged the citizens to leave water out for these strays. And the people did. They get to have all of the good things about having a cat (company and affection) without most of the responsibility.
In America, however, we have disdain for stray animals. I can distinctly remember my sunday school teacher telling me about how her husband had drowned a stray cat because he was a nuisance. To be fair, outdoor cats can have negative impacts on he local ecosystems. But I could never wrap my head around killing a cat just because it was there. In fact, my family started feeding a big fluff ball about five years ago, and he turned out to be such a fun little creature who still sticks around.
One explanation I found for this difference is that a majority of the Turkish population is Muslim. It preaches tolerance for creatures, which is certainly applicable in this situation. Additionally, cats play significant roles in some Islamic tales, which elicits them even more respect.
The Istanbulites see cats as cohabiters of their city, while we tend to see them as invaders. I’m pretty happy about this, because another three weeks without my cat will be difficult while I’m abroad. Hopefully I’ll be able to get my feline fix in our time in Istanbul.
Photo source: http://www.worldcrunch.com/food-travel/istanbul-an-enchanting-paradise-for-cats/istanbul-cats-dogs-germany-pets/c6s9685/#.VMWBu2R4qLE