What's Up with the Stray Cats of Istanbul?

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I’ve seen all kinds of animals in cities all over the U.S.

In Washington, DC or New York, rats the size of your hand run across the sidewalk causing you to involuntarily jump and scream, while in Atlanta chipmunks jump in zigzag after that one nut that fell off of the tree. In Berkeley, I’ve seen many deer munching on leaves on the side of the road as cars drive by and in San Francisco I’ve confronted raccoons going through my garbage bins.

 

Cute or strange, creepy or unusual, every city has its share of street animals. For Istanbul it is cats and dogs, but let’s get real, cats pretty much rule the streets.

While many people have domestic cats, the stray ones are equally lucky. Popping up new babies every spring, the streets get swarmed by kittens that are very well taken care of by the neighborhood residents. All over the city you’ll see little containers left on the sidewalk filled with cat food and water and cardboard boxes to protect them from the harsh weather.

While the cats are not formally adopted, they get very good care from sensible residents. Often than not, some lucky ones even get a free trip to the vet, get all cleaned, vaccinated and checked out before he is handed to a safe and loving home.

It is very common to share your seat with them at a café or park bench. Give him a little bit of love and you’ll have him on your lap in a matter of minutes. I never complain of a cat purring away on my lap while reading a book and enjoying a cup of Turkish tea at a café. Funny enough, there are plenty of locals who are incredibly afraid of cats, don’t be alarmed when you hear a 20-something girl scream in the midst of sipping her latte; a cat probably brushed against her legs under the chair. I would always suggest being cautious before petting a stray animal. Unfortunately due to the large number of stray cats in the city, not all of them receive the care they need for a healthy life and might carry diseases.

 

What I love most about these cats is their incredible ability to fit into any shape and form for a nap, which they take at all hours of the day. Honestly, I’m a little jealous of them, I’ve been practicing yoga for over a decade but still can’t get as flexible as these furry felines.

 

If you’re visiting Istanbul, sooner or later you will be tempted to pet, share your food with and definitely take a lot of pictures of cats. Remember that they are also shameless; give them a little bit of your food and the next thing you know they’re on your lap. I once made the mistake of getting too friendly with a brown-white colored cat. I had just moved to a new apartment on the ground level and saw this cat hanging out outside my bedroom window. After a few days of leaving a bowl of milk and bread outside the window and petting him briefly, he claimed my house his. I found him in my apartment strolling through the living room; imagine my heart jumping out of my chest as I saw this ghostly movement from the corner of my eye. Needless to say he was cut off the snacks right after. 

So, be prepared to share some love with these cats and enjoy the unconditional love they give back. They will be a memorable part of your trip.

 

 


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Seza Bali

Born and raised in Istanbul, Seza lived in the U.S. for more than a third of her life. She's traveled through Turkey, U.S., and Europe, as well as Israel and Cuba. Seza is once again living in Istanbul and exploring her city as a local tourist. She is a travel buff and a photographer. Check her portfolio at sezabali.com

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