Animal rights defenders in Turkey are concerned for the lives of stray dogs after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan targeted the animals following an incident involving a pitbull.
Erdoğan on Dec. 25 ordered municipalities to remove stray dogs from the streets and place them in shelters, which effectively means death for the animals since shelters are in horrendous conditions in Turkey.
The president's remarks came after two pitbulls attacked a 4-year-old child in the southeastern province of Antep this week. The child, Asiye Ateş, was heavily injured and is currently receiving treatment at a hospital.
In a speech on Dec. 25, Erdoğan also stirred controversy by calling on "White Turks" to look after their dogs, saying that breeds such as pitbulls are owned by wealthy people.
Despite the pitbulls not being stray, Erdoğan used the incident to call for the streets to be free of animals. Later in the day, he said that it would be a significant service to remove stray dogs from the streets and place them in "clean and safe environments." He also called on municipalities to act on the issue urgently.
Sahipsiz hayvanların sokaklardan alınarak temiz ve güvenli ortamlara taşınmasını önemli bir hizmet olarak görüyorum.— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) December 25, 2021
Tüm belediyelerimize hem vatandaşlarımızın güvenliğini sağlayacak hem bu canları koruyacak adımları süratle atmaları çağrısında bulunuyorum.
Although Erdoğan deemed shelters "clean and safe environments," this is almost never the case. Pictures and videos frequently shared by animal rights activists reveal the abhorrent conditions animals are forced to live in. In many cases, animals die of hunger and diseases in tiny and filthy cages, while at other times municipality employees kill them as soon as they collect them from the streets.
The issue became a trending topic on Twitter and thousands of people slammed Erdoğan's remarks. While many pointed to the fact that pitbulls are not intrinsically violent and that their owners raise these animals to be such, others asked why the incident became a tool to target stray animals.
Animal Rights Federation (HAYTAP) chair Ahmet Kemal Şenpolat said that abandoning animals to die in shelters is not a solution when there is no spaying and neutering.
"This should be done by municipalities. Locking them up is not a solution," Şenpolat told the daily BirGün on Dec. 26.
According to the law, municipalities are obliged to bring the animals back to where they took them after giving them necessary treatment or spaying and neutering them. Stray animals can only be held in shelters temporarily, the law says.
Lawyer Hacer Gizem Karataş from the Animal Rights Watch Committee (HAKİM) said that Erdoğan's order on municipalities effectively means an order of slaughter. She also said that the committee will do whatever is necessary in the face of such unlawfulness.