Tag: cat care

Istanbul: A City for Cats

It wouldn’t be hyperbole to call Istanbul a city for cats.

Felines are everywhere in this metropolis of 16 million, from the beloved — and famous — cats of the Hagia Sophia, to the shop cats lazing away their afternoons in bookstores and cafes, to neighborhood strays who enjoy the protection and care of entire communities.

Europe’s largest city is an example to the rest of the world, a vision of what life looks like when virtually everyone respects animals and pitches in to care for them.

We were fortunate enough to catch up with Başak Bugay, an Istanbul native who loves cats and cares for a small pride of strays in addition to her own beloved cat.

Thanks for joining us, Başak! Can you tell us a little bit about you, what you do for a living and whether you’ve got cats of your own?

I’m a 41-year-old visual artist living and working in Istanbul. Though I was born here, like the majority of Istanbulites, I have my roots in different regions of Anatolia. It’s not really easy to survive as an artist in Turkey, but that is the path I chose.

I live with [my cat] Minnosh in our home! I am so grateful for her presence and feel blessed to be chosen by her. She is one of the kindest souls I have ever met and yet a great inspiration as a survivor. It may sound funny but somehow she reminds me of my beloved grandmother who was a very strong woman… Minnosh (Turkish for “little darling”) came into my life years ago when she was a stray. She would spend the day at my studio and would leave with me at the end of the day.

istanbul4
“If I sits, you can’t sits.” /Style Inked

Sometimes, especially during cold winters, she would follow me to my apartment and spend the night there. Strays are usually very anxious if they don’t have access to go out and it is not easy (in my opinion also not fair) to force them to stay inside. So she was not into being a house cat until the day she had a car accident. She suffered a broken leg and tail. After several surgeries at the vet, I took her home. It’s been 3 years now and she shows no more interest in going outside. She is 11 or 12 years old, having a happy, peaceful retirement at home.

For readers who may not be aware of Istanbul and the special place cats have there, can you tell us a little bit about the city and its relationship with cats?

It has always been a cat city and it is even more today. Istanbul is a big metropolis of more than 16 million inhabitants. As someone who was born and grew up in Istanbul, there are some quarters even I’ve never visited.

The life, culture and social habits vary from neighborhood to neighborhood; whether those neighborhoods are upper or lower class, secular or conservative, strays are everywhere and people take care of them.

istanbul2
Street cats hang out near shelters built for them by people in the neighborhood. Credit: Başak Bugay

For the last few years almost all shops, markets, cafes and even shopping malls or hotels have started to put food cans and shelters in front of their door and some even host them inside. As a good example, a few years ago during snowy winter days, a fashion store opened its doors to stray cats and dogs for them to pass the cold nights inside. Best advertisement ever!

People in Istanbul have the common manner to take care of the animals, punish the ones who treat them badly and reward those who do good things. In my quarter you may see several cat houses and some of them are made by real estate agencies with their logo on the top! In addition, local authorities have special units for strays: They have a 24/7 emergency service, they do sterilization and bring them back to their neighborhood, they vaccinate stray dogs and replace cat/dog houses on the streets. It’s not all rainbows and flowers, but I think things are improving.

Is caring for cats an unwritten rule among the people of Istanbul? Is it embedded in the culture?

Not only the cats but also the dogs and the birds. Although it varies from region to region, it looks like this has been part of our culture for a long time. An important element of Ottoman architecture, for example, is bird shelters on building facades.

ottomanarchitecture
A restored bird shelter built on the facade of an Ottoman-era building.

Beginning in the 20th century the city was famous for its dogs. Sultan Mahmud II, who could be considered as a dictator of his time, initiated some strict restrictions, in an attempt to westernize the country and institute so-called civilization reforms. One of his decrees was to deport a thousand stray dogs to an isolated island off Istanbul. Despite being a totalitarian dictator, Mahmud II bent to the will of the people who wanted the dogs back, so they were brought back.

People usually say that the love for cats among Turkish people finds its roots in Islam, but it cannot be the only reason, because dogs who are considered “dirty” according to religion are well protected too. Recently the municipality of Konya, which is the most conservative city of Turkey, started a new program to rehabilitate dogs and place them in new homes, with a monthly stipend for caretaking expenses.

With regard to cats, it is said that the story of cats’ domestication had started in Anatolia as the most ancient land where agriculture was developed. That could be another reason why we are a whale for the cats. However I was surprised to see the absence of cats in the east of Turkey; there were really very few even in Van which is famous for its cats. Istanbul and probably the west coast of Turkey has the majority of the cat population in the whole country.

Recently there was a viral video of a man pushing a cart through the street in Istanbul when he came upon a cat drinking from rainwater collected in a puddle in the street. The man waited patiently for the cat to finish drinking, then went on his way. Is that a common scene there? Have you seen any simple acts of kindness toward cats?

Although there are some people who aren’t so nice to cats, yes, this kind of kindness is common and I see it all the time, not only in Istanbul but almost all around in Turkey. There is this story about prophet Mohammed: he wanted to get up but a cat was sleeping on the sleeve of his cardigan. Instead of waking the cat up, he cut his sleeve off. That kind of story might have a cultural impact and influence the behavior of Muslims.

A few weeks ago Izmir (a city of 4.3 million on Turkey’s Aegean coast) had a terrible earthquake, which caused around 100 dead and 1,000 wounded. Rescue teams worked hard to save the animals as much as they did for people. They kept the rescued cats in a shelter, looked for their humans or tried to find new homes for them.

catrescueizmir
A rescue worker in Izmir holds a cat who was rescued from the rubble more than 30 hours after the 6.6-magnitude earthquake. /Hurriyet Daily News

You care for three friendly-looking cats who clearly know and trust you. How’d you get to know them and earn their trust? Do they just hang out at your home?

It is my studio, actually. I have a direct entry from the street so it allows me to be closer to the strays in the neighborhood. I knew their mother and would feed her too. They were all wild, and wouldn’t let me get closer or touch them. Once their mother abandoned them, they didn’t leave the area and I kept feeding them.

Sometimes I’d leave the door open and they’d come in. That’s how they eventually understood that I was harmless. One of them vanished; probably someone in the neighborhood adopted her. One shows no sign of interest in bonding with me. He is very distant but at least doesn’t run away when I go closer. However the other starts to let me pet him and enjoys it very much. I call him Osman.

Those of us living outside Turkey have seen photos of cats casually walking wherever they please: Entering office buildings, shops, homes, government offices. Do cats have free reign in Istanbul? Does anyone ever stop them from going where they please?

istanbulcatcarpet
“I has all the carpets!” /Photo essay: Street cats of Turkey

Well of course there must be some places they cannot go in but if it’s a private business, such as a restaurant or a shop, the owners would fear to get on the wrong side of people if they don’t get along with the cats. So even if they don’t like it, it’s kind of a must for such a place to welcome the strays.

On second thought, yes, I think they are welcomed almost everywhere. You would see them sitting, lying, sleeping in very awkward places and nobody would disturb them. I don’t know if you have seen the video of the cat messing with the Istanbul Symphony Orchestra players and stayed on the stage during the concert.

Although people of Turkey are quite polarized in terms of almost everything, when it is about animals, they unite and show a common reaction. At least no one objects when it comes to fighting for animal rights.

To be honest I couldn’t live in a city where the cats are absent. I feel very isolated and alone when I go out of Turkey, especially in European cities.

Since there are so many street cats in Istanbul — an estimated 125,000 — what about house cats? Is it common for the people of Istanbul to keep cats as house pets? Are those cats kept indoors or do they wander the streets too?

It is more common now than the past to have pets in the house and they are mostly cats rather than dogs. The old generation also had the culture to take care of the animals, but only if they were out of the house. Whereas many of them lived in stand-alone houses with gardens, most of us now live in apartments. Unfortunately, it is not possible for a house cat to go in and out [of an apartment]. I, for example, know only one house cat who goes around in my neighborhood.

Why do you love cats?

I grew up as an only child and was quite introverted. This is probably why I have always been passionate about bonding and getting to know the animals, although my parents were old fashioned and wouldn’t allow me to adopt one.

We would spend the summer holidays on an island of Istanbul, where our house was in the heart of the forest and surrounded by feral cats. I would chase them all day long but most wouldn’t allow me to get closer. My passion for observing their behaviors made me admire them. I probably understand and know cats better than I do humans. In my opinion they are the strongest animals in terms of evolution with their ability to adapt to humanity without compromising their nature.

glihagia2
The late Gli, most famous resident cat of the Hagia Sophia. Gli was a magnet for tourists, the subject of thousands of photos, and was famously petted by former U.S. President Barack Obama during his state visit to Turkey.
Screenshot_2020-12-10 2-5 png (WEBP Image, 860 × 990 pixels) — Scaled (97%)
Former President Barack Obama pets Gli.

And finally, is there anything I didn’t ask, but should have? Is there anything you’d like to tell our readers about you, your city or the cats there?

I mostly talked about the good sides of it, but that doesn’t mean everything is perfect. The biggest problem is, we still don’t have a proper animal rights law in Turkey. Animal abusers or killers exist and they don’t get sentenced for their crime but only pay a small account of money.

If the animal has an owner, it’s considered as damage to property and has a more strict penalty. This has to change immediately. Also there are some epidemics among stray cats such as Coronavirus and feline HIV, which are very hard to treat. The good thing is the vets are usually very helpful. Some do voluntary service or work for a considerable discount. Yet no animal would be left alone in case of an accident or a disease, at least not in my neighborhood.

Thanks to Başak for taking the time to answer our questions, and in a foreign language, no less. I only speak two: English and Buddinese, and the latter isn’t so much a language as it’s a set of 283 different ways to say, “Feed me!” Here in the US, we could learn a lot from the people of Istanbul, their love of cats and their community effort to care for them.

buddy_green
“Oh! Did someone say turkey?”

Local Gov. Employees In California Are Shooting Cats To ‘Protect Wildlife’

In a sickening story out of California, state government employees have admitted to shooting 18 cats and say they can’t rule out shooting more who venture too close to a marshland where thousands of birds migrate for the winter.

The cats were shot by employees of the East Bay Regional Park District, a government agency that manages parks in the Bay Area, including San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Palo Alto and dozens of other cities and towns in a nine-county area.

They’re operating under a broad mandate that allows them to kill any cats “that may pose a danger to wildlife,” according to a report by Bay Area ABC affiliate KGO.

It’s 7:30 at night in an East Oakland office park, Cecelia Theis is trying to trap what’s left of the colony of cats she’s cared for over the past year. She tells the I-Team, “I really want to get them out of here.”

After Theis came here to work for the county, training poll workers in the last primary election, she began helping others feed the feral cats. She fell hard for them, including the little one who climbed on her hood waiting for food, and the first cat she befriended.

“Each of them had a personality and helping them was a priority for me,” Theis said.

She found homes for their kittens, took the adults to be spayed and neutered; the colony was stable at 30 cats. But over the past month, most of them have disappeared.

Theis finally got East Bay Regional Park officials to admit, their staff shot and killed several of the cats that had wandered into a nearby marsh.

Her heartbreak spilled out on social media, “It’s not okay to shoot these beings; some of them were pets that were abandoned.”

The state employees who shot the cats did so without notifying the public, without talking to locals who manage and care for cat colonies in the area, and without asking for the help of local shelters and rescues whose staffers say they could have easily trapped the cats and relocated them.

In fact, the East Bay Regional Park District lied when first asked about the fate of the cats: Employees there initially told Theis and another colony manager that the cats were trapped and taken to shelters in Oakland and nearby Dublin, according to a day-old Change.org petition that already has almost 500 signatures.

3C25179C-2597-4D77-87CD-2FB9A007E358

The state employees only came clean about killing cats when Theis went to KGO and they realized their actions would be detailed in media reports. They’re still obfuscating: KGO journalists filed public records requests for documents related to the cat killings, but the agency has not fulfilled the requests.

That’s illegal according to state and federal law, which dictate that government agencies have 30 days to respond and, if they deny the open records request, must provide a compelling reason why. As a career journalist who has filed my own share of Freedom of Information Act requests over the years, I cannot fathom any valid excuse for withholding those documents from the media and thus, the public.

Policies like this one are a direct result of the dangerous misinformation peddled by a handful of academics who advocate for the extermination of cats, and claim domestic cats kill more than 20 billion birds and small mammals in the US annually.

Despite serious and deep flaws in their methodology — and the fact that the authors invented data rather than trying to gather it — the findings of those studies are reported as fact in the press, without any skepticism, despite push back from other scientists who have been sharply critical of the studies and their conclusions.

5F8F6039-255A-4706-8A34-9E7DF8DEF7C2

The result has been a panic over cats and their impact on smaller wildlife. The studies and the subsequent panic are directly responsible for policies like those adopted by some Australian regional governments, who have an open bounty on domestic cats, paying $10 for adult pelts and $5 for kitten pelts. They also fuel rhetoric of the type we witnessed in the New York Times this August, when a columnist was so incensed by reports of cats killing birds that she admitted to fantasizing about shooting a hungry, sickly stray who showed up in her neighborhood.

We have a serious problem if, on the cusp of 2021, we have government employees shooting cats and paying bounties for kitten pelts, based on the misguided idea, not supported by evidence, that violently killing small domestic animals is somehow an effective way to protect birds.

Cats are sentient creatures who feel pain, fear, anxiety, sadness and the full range of primary emotions. Moreover, they’ve been molded into companion animals who bond closely with humans. According to Theis and KGO, several of the cats who were shot were former pets.

A manager with the East Bay Regional Park District downplayed the shootings, saying there was a “communications breakdown” between his team and local rescues as well as colony caretakers.

“We feel horrible about this, you know, this is really one thing that’s just really sad,” Matt Graul, “chief of stewardship” for the agency, told KGO. “And we really don’t want to ever have to take this step. You know, we are compassionate, and love all wildlife. And many of our staff have cats as pets.”

Despite that, Graul would not rule out killing more cats and his agency has not complied with state public records law, nor did he say why the agency lied to colony caretakers about the fate of the strays. We hope Bay Area media organizations are getting their lawyers involved and working with the state’s open government office to force the East Bay Regional Park District to obey the law and release its records on the cat shootings.

This is unacceptable, and it should be stopped before government officials with too much zeal and too little skepticism enact similar policies in other states.

94744672-DA95-48BA-92AC-A0C6518D9619

Does Your Cat Tolerate A Collar?

Even indoor cats should wear collars, according to a pair of veterinarians who spoke with PopSugar.

Megan McCorkel, a veterinarian who writes for Better With Cats, said collars can make a difference if the unexpected happens and your cat gets outside:

While it might not seem as necessary to put a collar on an indoor cat as an outdoor cat, accidents can still happen, Dr. McCorkel said. Even indoor-only cats can venture out of the house unexpectedly. However, because indoor-only cats don’t have the street savviness of outdoor felines, they might be in a bit of panic when they first get out, she explained. Luckily, a collar helps people realize that your stressed-out kitty doesn’t belong outside, prompting them to return your lost cat home safely and quickly. “I think of a collar on an indoor cat like an insurance plan,” Dr. McCorkel said. “I hope I don’t need it, but when I do, I’ll be glad it’s there.”

The last time I tried to put a collar on Buddy was six years ago, and he was miserable with it on. At the time I tried the gradual approach, leaving it on him for short spurts and giving him extra treats and praise when he had it on.

Eventually I left it on Bud for the better part of a day. He whined and cried and never forgot it was around his neck.

Finally he managed to contort himself so he could get a hind paw underneath the collar and pull on it with his front paws. He trilled with anticipation, sliding it up his neck toward his ears — then lost his grip, and the collar snapped back like a rubber band.

I will never forget his shriek of unmistakable frustration in that moment. I knew he was miserable, and I took the collar off immediately.

Screenshot_2020-12-05 Cat-wearing-a-collar-Vets-Now webp (WEBP Image, 1333 × 1000 pixels) — Scaled (96%)

Right now I’m not worried about him getting outside because I live in an apartment building, meaning Bud would have to get through three or four sets of doors, and primarily because he wants nothing to do with the outdoors. As an indoor cat, Buddy gets overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells outside, and that’s when he’s on his harness with me as his safety blanket. He enjoys sunbathing on the balcony, but he won’t even step out there unless it’s a perfect 75-degree day.

I’ve made the determination that it’s not worth making him suffer. That could change in the future when my living circumstances are different.

What about your cats? Do they tolerate collars? Do you think they’re necessary?

Utah Couple Drops $15k To Save Beloved Cat

There are so many stories about people surrendering their cats to shelters, abandoning them when they move house and generally treating them like disposable creatures that it’s refreshing to read about people who wouldn’t part with their cats unless someone pried them from their cold, dead hands.

The story of a Utah couple who didn’t balk at a massive vet bill to save their cat’s life isn’t just uplifting because of the cat’s amazing recovery, but also because of their commitment to the little guy.

Golden Gibson and Lianna Warden adopted Lilou two years ago. His kittenhood sounds a lot like Bud’s: He was the runtiest of his litter and the last to be adopted out, yet he’s got a huge personality and he’s well-loved by his humans.

Warden describes him as “the cutest, happiest soul.”

Unfortunately, three weeks ago Lilou was hit by a car. Gibson and Warden didn’t know what happened to their cat until they got a call from a veterinarian telling them a Good Samaritan brought the badly-injured Lilou in.

Things looked grim: Lilou suffered multiple fractures of the skull and jaw, his hip was shattered, and he had dozens of lesser injuries. The veterinarian, Dr. Jennifer Alterman, told Gibson and Warden she wasn’t sure if Lilou would live, or if he’d be able to walk again.

The couple told Alterman to do all she could anyway, and paid the initial $5,000 for the cat’s care, despite Gibson losing his job due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Since then the bill has climbed to $15,000, and Lilou’s not done: He will need “multiple surgeries and intensive home care” to continue his recovery, the veterinarian said.

Screenshot_2020-09-10 EXCLUSIVE Utah couple explains spending $15,000 to save their cat (1)

When Lilou came to at the veterinary hospital and saw Gibson beside him, Gibson put his hand nearby — careful not to touch Lilou’s broken body — and the badly injured cat reached out, touching Gibson’s hand with his paw.

After several surgeries at the veterinary hospital, Lilou went home with his people, but he’s still got many more vet visits to go, local CBS affiliate KUTV reported. Gibson and Warden have to feed him through a tube, which takes about 45 minutes per meal, and they have to administer timed dosages of antibiotics, painkillers and anti-nausea medication.

“We sleep in shifts,” Warden said. “It’s kind of like having a newborn.”

Asked why she believes Lilou has been able to pull through such serious injuries, Warden said it’s because he loves his family, and knows they love him.

“I believe in my heart of hearts that it’s the love we’ve been giving him,” she said.

Their veterinarian agrees.

“This is a pretty rare case,” Alterman said, “in terms of that kind of commitment from an owner.”

Screenshot_2020-09-10 EXCLUSIVE Utah couple explains spending $15,000 to save their cat (2)

Lilou’s recovery has also surprised Alterman.

“It’s pretty incredible to see,” she said, “considering I thought this cat was never going to be able to walk again.”

Three weeks later he was back for an appointment “walking around like he owned the place,” Alterman said. “He was like a totally different cat and I’m totally falling in love with him.”

As for Warden and Gibson, they say they’re overcome with gratitude for kind-hearted cat lovers who donated more than $6,000 to help cover Lilou’s veterinary bills, and the still-anonymous Good Samaritan who brought the ailing cat to the veterinary hospital.

“We would love to be able to find that person and show them how well [Lilou’s] doing,” Warden said, “and have them be part of this story, because they are a huge part of it.”

Note: Because we know the images might be upsetting to some of our readers, we did not include photos of Lilou after the accident and during recovery. You can help contribute to Lilou’s medical bills by visiting Lilou’s Lifesavers on Facebook, or the GoFundMe page.

Cats Suffer From Human Mental Illness Too

Having Google alerts set up for cat-related new can yield some pretty awesome and unique stories as fodder for this blog, but it can also be seriously depressing, with story after story about cats getting shot with arrows, pellets and bullets, cats poisoned with antifreeze, cats abused for online fame and even cats killed by psychotic ex-boyfriends or girlfriends.

There are, unfortunately, plenty of hoarding stories as well, and they’re a reminder that cats don’t just suffer physical abuse at the hands of humans, they suffer mental abuse and neglect by mentally ill people.

That’s the case in Park Township, Michigan, where authorities acting on a tip found more than 150 cats living in “deplorable conditions”. Even protective gear couldn’t entirely filter the smell inside the home, animal control officers said.

The town declared the house unfit for human habitation and the local animal authority, St. Joseph County Animal Control, needed help from nearby animal shelters and rescues to confiscate the cats, who will be given veterinary care and rehabbed before they’re offered for adoption.

The raid was “by far” the “biggest animal seizure we’ve done,” animal control supervisor Greg Musser told the local NBC affiliate.

The cats range in age from newborn kittens to adults. Two cats were euthanized. Taking in more than 150 cats is no small task, and the shelter is asking for help with cat/kitten food, litter and other supplies.

“We have been working tirelessly to take care of all these cats on top of the normal business,” the shelter’s Facebook page reads. “We are doing our best to answer the phone and return messages. We are in need of wet and dry kitten food, litter, pee pads, laundry detergent and bleach. We are also in need of gently used baby blankets.”

In an updated story, authorities in a nearby town found similar hoarding conditions in a second property owned by the same woman, who moved some of the cats between them after a natural gas leak at the first home.

Screenshot_2020-08-12 150 cats rescued from Toronto home

While the number of cats is unusual, the story is not: Rescuers confiscated 50 cats and 30 raccoons from a home in Ohio on Aug. 6, following the rescue of 97 cats from another Ohio home two weeks earlier. Less than two weeks ago, the SPCA pulled more than 30 dog and cats from a Pennsylvania home in which the inside temperature exceeded 100 degrees. Authorities found 150 cats in a Toronto home last month, including several kittens who were in seriously bad shape.

Those are just a sampling pulled from the first few results on Google News. Doubtless a lot of these people mean well when they start taking in cats, and the behavior is the result of untreated mental illness. But what can be done to protect cats from these situations?

Featured image credit Chamber of Hoarders. It depicts another hoarding situation, similar to the Michigan case.