Habitat park or 'animal concentration camp'?

Style News Wire | 10/23/2012, 2:33 a.m.
It's been more than a century since Istanbul's residents were kept awake at night by the howling of tens of ...
Style News Wire

It's been more than a century since Istanbul's residents were kept awake at night by the howling of tens of thousands of stray dogs.

The dogs were rounded up and shipped to a deserted island in the Marmara Sea where they starved to death -- all part of a government-led effort to modernize Istanbul.

But the stories surrounding the so-called "Great Dog Massacre of 1910" are still fresh in the minds of Turkey's animal rights activists. Today, these activists are staging massive protests against a proposal to create "natural habitat parks" for stray cats and dogs in Turkey's urban areas.

These parks, they say, would really be concentration camps for stray animals.

"It's a law that might be killing hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats and little animals," said Michael Halfie, a television personality who joined thousands of demonstrators, many of whom marched with their pet dogs, through downtown Istanbul late last month. "We are now the voice of these voiceless, wonderful animals."

"The purpose of the law is to ensure a comfortable life for animals and that they be treated well," according to the government ministry that wrote Draft Law 5199. The ministry also said the law would "ensure that they are protected as best as possible from bad treatment, pain and suffering."

In recent weeks, animal rights activists have staged colorful, furious protests in Istanbul and more than a dozen other cities and towns across Turkey, criticizing the proposed legislation in the starkest terms before it was even submitted to a parliamentary vote.

"I am here only because I love animals. They are not animals for me, they are like my children," said Romali Perihan.

Perihan, an actress and singer from Turkish films of the 1970s and '80s who sported brightly dyed pink hair, strained to be heard over the roar of a crowd of protesters in Istanbul.

"I'm a soprano, I need my voice. But for animals I lost my voice!" she yelled.

The "natural habitat parks" outlined in the proposed legislation would be temporary homes for strays when there isn't enough room in animal shelters, until they are adopted, according to the Turkish Forestry and Water Works Ministry.

"They will be looked after, fed and sheltered," explained the ministry in an e-mail to CNN.

The parks would be built on the outskirts of cities, and would be equipped with facilities for visiting school groups, as well as veterinary departments, according to the ministry's blueprints.

But some animal rights activists fear the natural habitat parks will become dumping grounds for stray animals, a charge the Forestry Ministry bluntly denies.

If they run away into the street, it's a potential animal to be collected.

Deniz Taysanl Kalafatoglu, animal rights activist"As a lawyer, when I read the article, it says un-owned animals will be collected. Which means to me any kind of animals you see around, even the ones I own -- if they run away into the street, it's a potential animal to be collected," said Deniz Taysanl Kalafatoglu, vice president of the Istanbul Bar Association's Animal Rights Commission.