Any visitor spending a few days in Istanbul will notice the absurd number of cats hanging about. These streets cats are feral, yet not wild. They don’t have an owner, still friendly and curious towards humans around them. You might wonder what the deal is with them. The answer for their behavior lies within the people. Turkish people are very fond of cats, and even if they can’t adopt them, they make sure to take care of them by putting out food and water on the streets, usually in front of their homes.
Istanbul is the city of cats. Not only the people, but also the businesses in Istanbul have a very positive approach to cats. In some countries, cats might seem as a burden to the cafe and restaurant owners. But in Turkey, they are welcomed to hang out and relax while they savor the leftovers. Jodi Ettenberg writes about it in her article about Turkish cats, saying she was warned about giving food to the cats in restaurants by the owners in other countries. In Turkey, her food sharing qualities were encouraged by the restaurant owners and the owners even take it up a notch, giving the cats full meals after seeing what she is doing.
Turkish people’s love for cats comes from earlier times. In Ottoman Empire, cats were well-loved and looked after as well. Charities called vakıf were taking care of the strays in Istanbul. People of Ottoman Empire and Turkey always had a soft spot for cats, mostly with the effect of Islam. In Muslim religion, cats hold a special place. They are considered one of the clean animals with their habits of always cleaning themselves. There are many examples of Prophet Mohammad’s actions that show a fondness for the cats. With their hunting skills, felines were seen as protectors from diseases that may come from rats and from mice that can destroy libraries for centuries in Islamic countries. During these times, European people did not look cats as fondly.
There is no easy way to estimate how many cats are exactly living in Istanbul today. Not all of them are living comfortable lives. Even with the people’s help, Istanbul is a tough place to live on the streets for a small animal. But good news is, Turkey is a country where cruelty against stray cats is relatively rare and it causes a huge public backlash when it happens. The government is trying to make better laws against people who might hurt animals and trying to improve the animals conditions throughout the country.
We hope that you will never be without the purrs and cuddles of the cats of Istanbul during your visits, unless you have allergy.