Turkey has a huge problem with free-roaming dogs and cats, and the country is struggling with ways to manage the problem. No one knows how many street cats and dogs are there in Turkey. One estimate is that in Istambul, a city of 11.3 million people, there are at least 150,000 free-roaming dogs. Rabies is endemic in Turkish dogs, and every year there are a small number of people who die from the bites of rabid dogs. The Turkish federal government passed a law a few years ago requiring cities to control the roaming dogs. But as in America, few cities have all the resources they need to effectively control the loose animals.
Cultural issues further complicate things. Many Turks are quite comfortable with, and even enjoy, having the free-roaming dogs around. Free-roaming dogs have been documented in Istambul for at least several hundred years, perhaps longer. Today, dogs are found almost anywhere – even in this patio area of a Starbucks in Istambul.
Furthermore, Turks are very much against euthanasia of dogs and cats for “population control”. This is in contrast to the US where there has been very little tolerance of free-roaming dogs, and where euthanasia of healthy but unwanted dogs has been a common, although controversial, public health policy for at least 50 years. This is changing in the US today as the numbers of free-roaming dogs has declined, and as public sentiment about euthanasia of unowned dogs has evolved.
The strategy being tried in Turkey is trap-spay/neuter-vaccinate/treat and release. Free-roaming dogs are picked up off the streets, and taken to local shelters where they are spayed or neutered, vaccinated for rabies and other diseases, treated for minor illnesses, ear-tagged for identification, and then released back to the neighborhood where they were trapped.