Stray Cats in Istanbul

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As I walked through the streets of Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s historic center, I noticed that there were quite a few cats milling about.  That’s nothing special — you see that in most cities.  Probably Rome more than anywhere else.

But upon further inspection, I realized that unlike the frail, weak stray cats that fill most cities, these stray cats were very well-fed and absolutely gorgeous with thick, glossy coats.

How beautiful is that cat?

I didn’t get it.  Why is every single stray cat in Istanbul so cuddly?  I asked my Facebook fans.

On a tip from Anil, I learned that residents of Istanbul have a special relationship with the stray cats.  You can read the whole piece here — it’s fascinating.

It turns out that much of it has to do with Islam.  Islam preaches tolerance and compassion for all creatures, but cats are held in even higher regard.  Cats frequently pop up in the Koran, including one saving the life of the Prophet Muhammad, and a popular saying is, “If you kill a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.”

This translates into locals caring for the stray cats, leaving them food, welcoming them into their homes and businesses, and making a place for them in the community.  It’s a good deal — for many Istanbul residents, taking care of strays is pretty much like having a cat without the responsibilities.

Turkey is also very forward-thinking in animal rights, and in 2004 passed an animal rights act protecting all street animals.

During my time in Istanbul, I got to know several of the cats in the neighborhood, including the cat who hung around our favorite kebab stand every night.

If you’re going to be spending time in Istanbul, don’t just drop into Sultanahmet to see the monuments –take time to walk around the side streets and get to know the stray cats.  And if you’re considering getting a cat, it might not a bad idea to book Turkey vacation homes rentals here and try out the “having a cat without having a cat” thing for yourself.

As aloof as cats are, these ones are pretty friendly.

For the most part, anyway.