His grubby paws said “stray” but his full belly said “pet”. We met him on the street. He followed us up the three flights of stairs to our apartment, using our legs as a kind of snugly slalom course. We fed him leftover mince and named him for it. He purred appreciably as he wolfed it down. Now he’s cuddled into Fiona for the second night in a row.
Mince is the most gregarious street cat we’ve met in Istanbul, but there are plenty more. By and large they appear, healthy, well fed and active. Previously, local governments had rounded them up to be put down, but when locals felt the population wasn’t suitably controlled (and feared they carried diseases) they sometimes took matters into their own, violent hands. Then, in 2004, the government passed an animal protection law and changes its approach. Stray cats are now caught, neutered or spaid, micro-chipped and then put back on the street where they were found. There are probably a dozen who call our suburban lane home.
They’re mostly well cared for. Certainly they look well fed. We’ve seen them congregating around piles of luncheon sausage left on the sidewalk, and we’ve heard tales of neighbours feeding them as a kind of community service. True to their culinary traditions, some of the food looks pretty good.
One especially famous street cat is Gli. He lives in the Hagia Sophia, the astoundingly large and beautiful church turned Mosque in Istanbul’s tourist heavy centre. When we met him today he was effortless posing for a never ending stream of photos. I didn’t know he was famous until I googled up stray Istanbul cats and found he’d been visited by President Obama.
We like cats. Watching them skulk around at night, or dash across a palace courtyard in pursuit of a pigeon is definitely adding to our Istanbul experience. The policy approach that sees so many on the streets seems pretty nice. But it does also have its problems. Without regular veterinary care there are still serious risks of the cats carrying disease. And while a community that cares for them gives them a better chance than strays in poorer countries, their life still isn’t super. Mince, for example, loves a good scratch and a stroke, except on the right side of his neck. Touch there and he’ll lash out with all the speed of a very streetwise puss. We assume he’s nursing an injury. We’ll keep doting on him until we leave.