The Cat Houses of Istanbul: ‘Everybody Accepts Cats Must Have Their Own Life Spaces In The City’

We’ve written quite a bit about Turkey and how it serves as a model for co-existence and fondness between humans and cats, as well as other animals.

In Turkey — and especially in ancient Istanbul, the most populous city in Europe — cats are fed, welcomed into homes and shops, and taken care of by the entire community. Pets are still a thing there, but Istanbul’s stray population is the best cared-for in the world. They have their own parks, they’re protected by the people, and they’re even given miniature shelters which famously dot the city of 15 million.

“The whimsical structures — more like miniature apartment buildings than single-kitty houses — can be found in parks, outside shops and cafes, abutting private homes, and on university campuses, providing shelter for the city’s estimated 125,000 strays,” Reason to Be Cheerful’s staff wrote.

Cat house Turkey
A custom-built wooden cat house in Turkey.

The practice of creating shelters for strays and ferals began in 2008, when a young architect named Didem Gokgoz would pass strays in Istanbul’s Mistik Park as she walked to and from work every day.

“Every day I passed the park and saw them looking for a place to get some warmth during the winter, and I felt desperate,” Gokgoz said.

At first she began making small shelters from recyclable materials, but the compact structures weren’t always tolerated in parks and other places where people felt they were an eyesore, so after meeting with the city’s mayor, Gokgoz engaged in an experiment: She built larger, more aesthetically acceptable permanent structures in the park, including one that looks like a large catio with a sloping, house-like roof, draped in greenery and nondescript among the park’s other features.

Mistik Park cat house
The Mistik Park cat houses are protected by a catio-like structure. Only volunteers can use the human-size door, while small cat-size openings allow felines access. Credit: Transitions.

The project was a success, and soon she found herself with requests to build more. But they aren’t just built and installed: Each cat house is run by about a dozen volunteers who keep track of the local cats, feed them, get them spayed/neutered and see to their other needs.

Almost 14 years later, cat houses have become a permanent fixture not only in Istanbul, but in other Turkish cities as well.

“It became something normal; individuals make requests for cat houses,” Gokgoz told the Turkish journalism site Transitions. “That was our main goal, and we’ve reached it. Today, everybody accepts that cats must have their own life spaces in the city.”

Istanbul cat houses
Credit: Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality

10 thoughts on “The Cat Houses of Istanbul: ‘Everybody Accepts Cats Must Have Their Own Life Spaces In The City’”

  1. I wish everyone would take a lesson from Turkey! Awesomeness & Bliss fills my heart especially after reading more than my share of animals being abused or killed or experimented on…Bravo Turkey 🇹🇷 😍 ❤ Also thanks to Buddy & his human family for this blog…My go to for Big Buddy’s Cat knowledge
    & Wisdom

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, Turkey does it right when it comes to cats! Are there TNR programs to keep the cat population stable? Why can’t America adopt the Turkish model? It seems like a win-win for the cats, people and the city.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, Didem Gokgoz now makes cat houses and furniture full time, but she says she requires that each cluster of cat houses has a group of volunteers before installing them. The volunteers feed the cats, clean the shelters, do TNR and get the cats veterinary care if they’re injured or sick.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. If you don’t already, watch the videos of Walter Santi. He lives in Turkey and he has many loyal followers on YouTube who watch his interactions with the cats he has rescued who live in his yard (plus a few indoor cats).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve read about how much cats are greatly appreciated and atypically nicely treated in Istanbul.

    Many of us can appreciate the reciprocally healthy, perhaps even somewhat symbiotic, relationships that can exist between pet cats and their lovingly appreciative human hosts, especially when the host lives with physical and/or mental ailments. Whenever I observe anxiety in the facial expression of my aging mother, I can also witness how that stress suddenly drains and is replaced with joyful adoration upon her cat entering the room. “Hi, sweetheart,” she’ll say. Countless other seniors with a cat also experience its emotional benefits. Of course, the cat’s qualities, especially an un-humanly innocence, makes losing that pet someday such a heartbreaking experience.

    Perhaps cats have a beneficial effect on the human psyche that most people still cannot fathom thus appreciate. That unawareness may help explain why it was reported a few years ago that Surrey, British Columbia, had an estimated 36,000 feral cats, very many of which suffer severe malnourishment, debilitating injury and/or infection (I’ve seen many shocking, heart-wrenching images). And why the municipal government, as well as aware yet uncaring residents, did little or nothing to help with the local non-profit Trap/Neuter/Release program, regardless of their documented success in reducing the needless great suffering by these beautiful animals.

    Yesterday I contacted Surrey Community Cat Foundation and was informed that, if anything, their “numbers would have increased, not decreased, in the last 5 years.”

    I was also informed that the problems continuing for feral cats and strays in Surrey, B.C. are:
    • The increase in population and the lack of interest by more residents in caring for strays..
    • Lack of affordable pet friending housing causing cat owners to leave their pet behind and outdoor.
    • Tear-down of older homes where there was feeding done by the resident or the neighbourhood.
    • New construction and lack of places for ferals and strays to go.
    • Lack of City participation in reducing the suffering of all the cats (ferals and strays) by providing funding for a City veterinary hospital including low or no fees for low income spay/neuter.
    • Increase in residential housing and condos with developer fees not being put toward the care of misplaced feral and stray cats on the land.
    • Lack of cooperation with City services that are unable or do not want to care for stray cats that are not tame.
    • No place to house trapped feral cats.
    • Barn locations must be checked out and meet high criteria for the care of the animal. Colonies cannot be maintained without a resident caretaker and a food supply.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Two TNR charitable non-profits are functioning in the B.C. Lower Mainland. VOKRA’s TNR efforts are concentrated on Vancouver and Burnaby cities. The other TNR program is operated by Surrey Community Cat Foundation.

        A Surrey TNR-program staffer once left me an emotional phone message in which she thanked me for my donation. I deduced that the organization may rarely or never receive such relatively large private donations, which may indicate to her that society collectively doesn’t care about such terrible yet preventable immense feline affliction.

        Public disregard or even contempt towards such cats has repercussions. It likely reflects on why Trap/Neuter/Release programs for mostly feral cats, regardless of their documented immense suffering, are typically underfunded by governments as well as private donors. Also, I believe it could be subconscious yet tragic human nature to perceive the value of life (sometimes even human life in regularly war-torn or overpopulated famine-stricken global regions) in relation to the conditions enjoyed or suffered by that life. With the mindset of feline disposability, it might be: ‘Oh, there’s a lot more whence they came’.

        Only when unwanted overpopulations of cats are greatly reduced in number by responsible owners consistently spaying/neutering their pet felines will this beautiful animal’s presence be truly appreciated, especially for the symbiotic-like healthy relationship (contrary to common misinformation) they can and do give us.

        Like

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