Istanbul Turkey is rife with stray cats and dogs who've more or less assimilated into its busy life, being fed by garbage scraps or by the thousands of good-hearted city dwellers and restaurateurs who leave bowls of milk and table scraps out for the local strays. The city government now wants to 'round up' the street dogs and cats and keep them in 'natural habitat parks,' but animal activists are protesting 'never again.'
Though few of the hundreds of thousand protesters were around in 1910, stories abound of the 'Great Dog Massacre.' That year, as part of its plan to modernize Istanbul, the city rounded up thousands of dogs and cats from the streets, shipped them to a deserted island in the Marmara Sea, and starved the animals to death.
The natural habitat parks are suggested as a way to protect Istanbul's homeless animals when animal shelters have no room for them. The parks would be located on the outskirts of Istanbul. Though the city insists that the animals in the parks will be fed and cared for until they are adopted, protesters say that animals inside the shelter are being neglected and that the parks would really be 'concentration camps' for dogs and cats.
Some store owners told CNN reporters that dogs they were feeding and had even given names were already 'rounded up.' Other protesters were fearful that even dogs they own might be swept up because they were in the street, not an uncommon occurrence in Istanbul, where dogs hang out on street corners as if they were meeting for a smoke.
In an email to CNN the Turkish Forestry Ministry wrote one line in a response to a reporter's question: "Cats and dogs being rounded up, not the case."
Another contentious feature of the bill, as drafted, is a limit to the number of pets per household. The Forestry Ministry responded to that by stating: "The number and type of domesticated or accessory animals will be determined by taking into consideration the ecological needs of the animals, the conditions of the space, and human health."
One thing that both the government and the protesters agree upon is the criminalization of torture and sexual exploitation of animals, which now are only punishable by a fine.