I noticed him while checking out the view of the Bosphorous from the south lawn of Suleymaniye Camii. A lone black dog curled up on the roof against the edge of the building’s facade. As I and another tourist stood there debating how he ended up there and how he might possibly get down, an older man approached the garden wall. Seeming to recognize the man the dog rose and neared the edge.
Kindness comes in many forms. The man reached into his bag and removed meaty bones, tossing them across the void between the buildings to the waiting animal. The dog made a quick meal of the bones before the seagulls that seemed to appear out of nowhere could steal them away.
The dog is just one of the 150,000 estimated strays that make the streets of Istanbul home. Found curled under a patio table at the local coffee shop, waiting at the crosswalk with the pedestrians, or greeting tourists at the gates of Topkapi Palace, the dogs are as much a part of the populace as the people and treated with the same respect.
The government implemented a program to reduce the population over time. The strays are trapped, given a health check, fixed, vaccinated and tagged before being released back into the neighborhood in which they were found. They appear healthy and far fitter than the overly-loved beasts I see back home. Many are friendly and will sit with you for a pet and a scratch behind the ears before continuing on their way.
The cats are a different story. There is no official program in place for the cats unless locals trap and have the work done themselves. Despite their numbers, the strays are well cared for, with beds lining window ledges, carriers or cat houses in alleys and food and water left out daily.
As for the dog on the roof, uncut and untagged, no one seems terribly concerned.
“No problem,” I’m told. “He is being fed.”