Oh my dog!

I am in Izmir, Turkey on a case. Who said the life of a bicycle lawyer isn’t exotic?

I’ve been through Turkey twice, transiting the Istanbul airport. Izmir is a city of about 3M. I didn’t know what to expect except that I figured the food was going to be really good, and since its on the Aegean coast, pretty.

What I didn’t expect were the dogs. The dogs, and the cats.

As the sun rose yesterday I was making my way back from breakfast. I’d walked a couple of miles looking for a place that was open and getting sidetracked down various streets. The breakfast had been royal; ten or eleven separate plates, all the delicious tea you can drink, and a cup of Turkish coffee, all for less than ten bucks.

Little snack

When I ordered the waiter was skeptical. “Only one person?” he asked.

“Only one,” I affirmed.

Things went great until I got towards the end of the meal and ran out of butter. The place was empty and the two waiters had been pointing at me eating the breakfast-for-two all by myself. “Excuse me,” I said.

“Can I have some more butter?”

“Butter?” he asked. He was incredulous.

“Yes, please.”

“Just moment.”

He went off to the kitchen and came back without any butter but with another glass of tea. “Just minute, kitchen,” he said, pointing behind him.

A lot of time went by and I gave up on the butter, finishing my breakfast without it. That’s when the waiter came over with a giant, and I do mean giant, platter of french fries with mayonnaise and ketchup.

“Butter,” he said, although I realized he wasn’t saying “butter,” but rather “potatoes” in Turkish, which kind of sounds like butter.

He saw the surprised look on my face. “No okay?”

I eyed the fries, which were hot and crisp. “It’s fine,” I said, and dug in.

The first dog I saw was big, really big, and off-white. I looked for his owner but he didn’t have one. He was snuffling around in the grass. A few yards later I saw another one, also big, 70 pounds easy. He was sleeping, all curled up on the cement.

Further on I saw a couple more. Then a couple more. “What’s with all the dogs?” I wondered. They were fat dogs, too, not skipping meals, and they paid zero attention to people. So much for ferocious packs of feral dogs.

Back at the hotel I got on the Internet and started reading about the dogs of Izmir and Western Turkey. It’s a long story and kind of a sad one, but the long and short of it is that the city fixes the strays, tags their ears, and releases them back into the neighborhood they were picked up in.

Even though they dogs don’t have a home, lots of people care for them by making little dog beds and making sure their dog dishes are topped up with food and water. The town’s cats are numerous as well, and look mostly sleek and healthy. Several bowls full of chicken bones were carefully placed at the corner of buildings.

As inhumane as it is to dump your pet, there is something incredibly humane about caring for them with food, water, and basic medical care. The dogs make the town warmer and they make people friendlier. No one steered clear of a dog, much less kicked or shooed one away. It’s so much kinder than sending them off to “shelters” where they are caged and euthanized.

Lots of the dogs are abandoned pets; most of them, perhaps. Their faces look pretty sad even though their physiques are pretty robust. In the evening I was walking to dinner and I saw an old beagle, grey muzzle, walking around the periphery of a cafe. I wondered if it were safe to pet him.

We made eye contact and he waddled over. He hadn’t been hungry, I realized, just looking for some companionship. I started scratching his head, then his back. He sat down and looked up at me with the saddest beagle eyes.

After dinner I went into a coffee shop. It was about half an hour to closing time and I was the only patron. As I sat there a giant black dog came in, maybe 100 lbs. He walked through the tables and came over to my corner. Then he squeezed up against me and lay down on my foot. How’d he know?

I scratched his big shaggy head. He sniffed my fingers and looked up at me, then went to sleep. I’m not sure who was more grateful for the companionship, he or I.

END


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8 thoughts on “Oh my dog!”

  1. I’m so old I remember the days when dogs roamed free. In our little neighborhood it was not at all unusual for a dog from six houses away to drop by, looking for their kid.

    Later, in my college town, dogs were everywhere. My buddy Rob would tie a note to his mutt Stella’s collar and send her off with an urgent “get Timmy, Stella!” Moments later she would come bounding into my kitchen, leaping over the screenless screen door, wriggling with pride that she was chosen to deliver the news.

    Now it all seems like a dream, a dream of another world…

    But I never dreamed I was in Turkey. That’s a good one. I like to imagine that as your visit goes on, you are followed everywhere by a growing crowd of canines. The locals begin to call you “the Dog Man,” supplanting your previous appellation “Eats Hella Lot.”

  2. A not-always-reliable online translator provided the following:
    butter Tereyağı
    potato Patates

    it doesn’t look like the two Turkish words would sound much alike, but I don’t know Turkish. Are there other Turkish words for butter/potato?

  3. This Turkish man, Sarper Duman, took in 7 homeless cats who he serenades with his piano. Turks are something else, man.

  4. The cats are famous, the film Kitteh is a love story to the cats of Istanbul. I didn’t know about the dogs, tho…

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