I traveled to Turkey last month. I’d been hoping to go for years and planning it since February. I saw tons and learned tons… and had my eyes opened to many things. I also met tons of cats.
Did you know that the Prophet Mohammed was a big cat fan? He loved his own cat and grieved his death. He offered an example to Muslims. I like Mohammed more now, and feel he is a bit of a kindred spirit.
There was also a lot of respect given to cats in the fertile crescent for their effectiveness at keeping the vermin at bay. So in Turkey, they do have a cat overpopulation, but people feed strays. In general they are healthy and happy but always hungry. They get pieces of pie, bagels, and hopefully some meat. I don’t think the good-natured people realize that cats are obligate carnivores.
I know I can’t make a change in their lives, but I know that kindness can fill their bellies for a day. Each day of my trip, I took meat from our morning buffet, slipped it into the paper napkin at the table, and then put it into a plastic ziplock bag. This bag was almost always in my purse, so I was able to feed cats in the most extraordinary places: Troy, Topkapi Palace, Goreme, Bodrum, Izmir, the Blue Mosque, and on the Silk Road.
My mother would have a fit: I grew up being told to not go near strange or stray animals. Here I petted and met dozens of cats… and even a few stray dogs.
I met some cats who were full-feral – and I was a strange and suspicious source of food. For these kitties I threw meat their way, and didn’t ask more of them. The hardest were the semi-feral ones – ones who would want food but be untrusting or even aggressive while being fed. Both my spouse and I have a few scratches to affirm this. Even the cutest tabby kitten outside Topkapi Sultan’s Palace in busy Istanbul was semi-feral. She was gorgeous and all claws as she pounced voraciously on every piece of meat that came her way. There were lots of friendly ones too… who came for a petting even if I had no food to offer.
A few will remain with me for a long time. One was a little girl with a limpy-paw who lived in a lonely outpost. I was warned not to go near her since she scratches. No she doesn’t. She might scratch if you try to get too familiar or pick her up, but I was able to pet her fully and she was purring! With people being warned away from this lovely long furred calico with the green eyes, I worried that she would not get enough food. She got all my stolen sausages for the day… a full and healthy meal. Another was a little pregnant orangie in a very cold area (colder than my area of Canada) in a small and dreary town… we gave her all we had, and she was so friendly. She was all sweetness and love despite clearly harsh conditions.
And then there was ‘Sultan’. Yes: Sultan gets his own paragraph. On our first day touring Turkey, we went to the Hippodrome in Istanbul in the morning. We didn’t have any food with us, but my spouse found a couple of kittens of about 8 weeks old and was playing with one: a gorgeous little grey tabby who just wanted to be social and play. He took a little video of him, since he was smitten. A full two weeks later on our return to Istanbul, we walked though the same area of the Hippodrome and looked for the little guy with no luck. We’d bought a whole pack of sausages at the local market, so we fed a dozen cats that day. At the end of the day, we were walking back towards our hotel past the Hippodrome where we’d seen our furry friend, and out of nowhere, the grey tabby came running right up to us! He was lankier and 2 weeks older. We fed him until he was not interested in food, petted and played with him and then had to leave for the airport. We called him Sultan – fitting since we were in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district. If it was feasible, I think we would have brought Sultan home with us. It was love at first sight… and then a serendipitous second meeting.
While I couldn’t save any cats, I know that I made many happy with the joy of a tasty treat or a full belly for one day. It’s the little things in life that matter.
PS I don’t have many photos of the cats we met – dirty, meaty fingers and cameras don’t mix!
PPS My travel group thought I was nuts, but by the end one actually thanked me for caring enough to feed the animals. Who knows… maybe I planted a seed in some of them!
Blue Mosque Kitty
St Paul’s Cathedral and Grave, Ephesus
Spot the kitty – Caravan Stop along the Silk Road
Goreme Open Air Museum
No food: she just wanted company and some love and hopped up – Ankara Museum
Fast asleep among the crowds, Spice Bazaar, Istanbul
Meet Sultan! We will always remember him and hope he has a great life! Opposite Blue Mosque in the Hippodrome, Istanbul