Around Buyukada, the largest of the Princes Islands near Istanbul, you can’t avoid running into stray cats – a lot of them. Back in the Ottomans times people lived mostly in wooden houses. These houses was getting hordes of mice and rats so cats was a way to keep the pests out of the houses. That’s why people in Turkey has such an affiliation towards cats – Istanbul, for example is home for more than 1 million stray cats.
Nowadays, people build little houses and shelters for the stray cats, keeping them safe and warm. Likewise people put out food to the cats. On Buyukada the cats are spoiled by the many fish restaurants and tourist that feed them or leave leftovers. So most of the cats on Buyukada are well fed and happy cats, and their numbers are only growing steadily.
However, there is a large problem in Turkey with homeless animals primarily because there is not much of a culture of thinking in nutrients – the life of a stay cat is not long, about 3-6 years. And the Covid-pandemic has only made it worse for the cats because it limits the number of tourist while restrictions has forced restaurants and cafes to keep closed, leaving less food for the cats with the result that gangs of hungry stray cats have begun roaming the streets of Buyukada.
On our stay at Buyukada we experienced on close hand how the lack of nutrients and the Covid-pandemic had become a serious challenge for the stray cats.
Already the first day we got us a new friend. A little stray kitten around three months old that lived with its mother out on our terrace. When we were sitting on the terrace the kitten would either crawl up into our lap or continued upwards until it lay on top of our heads, half asleep, half curious about what was happening down below its hairy resting place.
But the weather was getting colder and so the kitten began to sneeze. And one morning we experienced how the kitten was bumping into the things on the terrace and when it tried to crawl up on our heads it fell down. After a closer inspection we found out that its eyes were glued together with a yellow kind of bacterial crumbles – it had gotten eye inflammation. So we began cleaning it eyes with chamomile tea – something we remembered our mothers had done when we had eye inflammation as children. And for some days everything seemed to be going the right direction. Until we found the kitten shaking on the terrace, and we decided to take it to the local veterinarian. However, it was already in too bad a shape – not so much because of the infection, but due to its lack of nutrients.
Later the next day the kitten passed away. We buried it around midnight in the back yard between tomato and pumpkin plants, laying it to rest in a grave filled with purple and white flowers. It was a sad day. However, when we earlier that evening went out on the street to pick the flowers for the grave, we were meet by a gang of maybe 18-20 stray cats – whom all were sitting across the street waiting while following us with worried eyes. It was a strange and uncanny experience. After the funeral we peeped out of the front gate and could see that the gang of stray cats were gone. The street was empty and more silent that any other night we had experienced. The local stray cats had come to say goodbye to the kitten and had then left it in peace.
TEXT: Steen Andersen // @just_another_alter_ego