“The dogs sleep in the streets all over the city, they would not move though the Sultan himself passed by” Mark Twain
Homeless dogs have lived on the streets of Turkey for generations, many Turkish people have a close regard for them & believe that they are part of the fabric of the land, that they have a place in Turkish society & that the streets belong to them.
Sentiments echoed in Elizabeth Lo’s documentary Stray, a Turkish love letter which illustrates the unique relationship between the stray dogs of Istanbul with the people and the city itself.
Elizabeth remarked that during the 18 month filming she saw the kindness & protection offered to the dogs from the residents of Istanbul & observed nothing but care & respect for them. However, she did mention an event which took place in 1911 which had dire consequences for the dogs & later, a profound effect on the people of Istanbul.
Elizabeth tells us that a British diplomat was visiting the city & panicked by the dogs he tripped & fell to his death. Outrage followed which resulted in pressure being exerted to have the dogs removed from the streets for the reason of safety.
The people of Istanbul were unhappy with a decision to move the dogs as they were used to the dogs providing security, many times the dogs had raised the alarm at night when fires had broken out in the city, saving countless lives.
Municipality workers were ordered to round up the dogs, a task which they did not want to do as they believed that it would bring them bad luck.
Nonetheless, 80,000 dogs were pulled from the streets & taken to an island called Sivriada.
The island was barren, very little in the way of vegetation, rocky terrain with no water or food.
The people of Istanbul heard the barks & howls of the dogs as they carried in the air to the mainland. Keeping them awake.
All of the dogs perished. Some starved while others were eaten by dogs in better health.
Tragically many drowned as they bravely attempted to swim back to the streets of Istanbul.
An earthquake took place not long after the dogs died. Istanbulite’s saw this as a sign from god & punishment for their betrayal of the dogs.