Felines and canines set to get broader protections in the country.

Istanbul’s skyline boasts some of the best sights in the world but often it’s what is strutting on the streets that really grabs sightseers attention.

The city’s cats and dogs, thought to number around 150,000, share Istanbul with the other 16 million human inhabitants, effortlessly turning visitors' heads.

Humans have even raised statues of what some would say are the city’s true owners: cats.

When Tombili, a cat in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district died in 2016, residents ensured that it was immortalised in its favourite pose, reclining on the pavement step watching residents meandering past.

Tombili's bronze statue in Ziverbey (Kadıkoy), Istanbul.
Tombili's bronze statue in Ziverbey (Kadıkoy), Istanbul. (Wiki commons)

Despite their lack of numerical superiority, their lobbying power is nothing to scoff at.

After years of discussion, a highly anticipated animal rights bill is making its way through the Turkish parliament which will ensure that animals are defined as legal beings instead of their current status as “commodities.”

The change will ensure that crimes against animals are placed on an equal footing with violence against people, and carry a jail sentence.

The bill has won the backing of all the country's main parties including the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Good Party (IP).

Acts of violence towards animals in recent years has sparked an outcry from people demanding harsher punishment for perpetrators.

Turkey, and particularly Istanbul, has developed a rich culture of care and compassion for the city's animals that goes back hundreds of years.

When in 1911 the then governor of Istanbul wanted to embark on a westernising effort and remake the city’s image as the capital of the Ottoman state, more than 80,000 dogs were sent to the island of Sivriada which is also known by the name of Hayirsizada or the “the inauspicious island."

The city’s residents, many of whom were against the move, reported hearing the dogs howling late into the night. There were also accounts of dogs drowning in an attempt to reach the shores of Istanbul.

An earthquake that shook the city shortly after the dogs were removed, leaving hundreds dead, was seen as a divine sign that the city had let down the city's co-inhabitants and its also how the island of Sivriada gained its “inauspicious” name.

As pressure mounted on the governor, a rescue effort to rescue the dogs was mounted, bringing the dogs back to the city and preserving the true character of Istanbul as a humane space for all living beings.

Fast forward to the present day and the act of looking after cats and dogs in particular has led to people investing in street side shelters for animals.

Looking after street animals in Istanbul is a communal effort, with people providing fresh food and water for the city's felines and canines. The city’s municipalities also provide free services for people to bring in stray animals that needs medical care.

Istanbulaites take pride in knowing that the city has a unique relationship with animals unlike any other city in the world and the country’s politicians are seeking to enshrine that protection for generations to come.

Source: TRT World