BY: JESSICA BEUKER
Istanbul, one of the world’s largest cities, is home to over 14 million people. It is also home to over 150,000 stray cats and dogs – a number that keeps increasing due to animal smuggling and lack of long-term solutions.
Animal activists have been fighting the government for change, while simultaneously caring and providing for strays. Unfortunately, until the root of the problem is addressed, every effort made falls short. The newest effort is aiming to raise awareness of this issue and be a catalyst for real change – it comes in the form of a vending-style machine.
The biggest cause of death among the strays is starvation. This has prompted Turkish company Pugedon to create a vending machine that releases food and water in exchange for plastic bottles.
According to Twisted Sifter, the concept kills two birds with one stone, feeding animals while simultaneously tackling pollution. When you input a plastic bottle, a small amount of food and water is released. Leftover water from the bottles is collected and reused and the money made from recycling the bottles is used to maintain the machines and purchase food. A growing number of machines are popping up all over the city.
This new innovation has been met with mixed reviews. Some locals already leave food and water out for the animals and see the machines as a positive step towards saving animal lives. However, others complain about dirt and disease and fear that the animals may become aggressive.
As a result of this worry, many people are looking towards the government for help. Which usually results in rounding up the animals and putting them in forests on the outskirts of the city. Turkey’s Ministry of Forestry and Water drafted a law that would send all stray city dogs to “wildlife parks” on the city outskirts. However, because of strong animal rights’ opposition, the law was never passed. Still, somehow more than a thousand dogs have been sent to live in these wooded areas.
Now animal volunteers have taken to caring for the animals themselves. They trek through the forests three times a week to feed and interact with the dogs that already live there. “These animals’ natural habitat is not that area,” said Ahmet Senpolat, an Istanbul-based lawyer who runs Turkey’s Animal Rights Federation in an interview with DW. Senpolat said that enforcing a law that sends the animals to the outskirts of the city is an inhumane and insufficient way to control the animal population. He compares it to a similar move that took place in 1910, where thousands of stray dogs were sent to an island in an effort to “westernize” the city. The result was dogs eating themselves to death or dying of hunger. In short, the law did nothing to address the problem at its core.
One of the core problems has to do with animal smuggling and illegal pet stores. According to DW, people keep buying expensive pure-bread puppies from the stores and then abandoning them when they become too much to handle. Additionally, pet smugglers only face a very small fine at worst.
While the vending machines are not a long-term solution, they are a step in the right direction. At the very least, they will encourage citizens to recycle and help keep the streets clean. At their most effective, they will prompt citizens to pressure the government to address the stray animal issue and figure out a sustainable, long-term solution.