More than 100,000 stray dogs roam the streets and forests in and around Istanbul, a figure rescue groups say has bloomed in recent years following the economic downturn in Europe.
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Hundreds of those are Golden Retrievers: sociable, family-friendly pups that rarely adapt to life as strays, the chairwoman of a Barrie, Ont.,-based rescue group says.
That's why Golden Rescue has begun flying the dogs into Canada, pairing them with new owners here, Viive Tamm said Thursday afternoon. The latest group of eight dogs were scheduled to touch down in Mississauga, Ont., at 3:28 p.m., all of whom already have homes.
"Goldens are the biggest sucks of all and they were having the most trouble on the streets," Tamm said. "They're the ones who are used to sleeping in their owners' beds."
Tamm and another volunteer with Golden Rescue visited Turkey in December after reading about the overwhelming numbers of strays, some of which had been moved to the forests surrounding the city.
The country has a long history with stray dogs, dating back to the Ottoman empire. Residents, stores and restaurants often leave out food and water, but in recent years shelters and rescue groups have begun questioning the animals' health, CNN and Deutsche Welle reported.
And while goldens are "fashionable" to adopt as puppies, once they grow up, they often find themselves in the street, according to the CNN story.
Tamm confirms that's what she and her colleague found on their trip to Turkey, hundreds of goldens — most between one and three years old — in two shelters that held a combined 8,000 dogs.
Before committing to a partnership, Tamm said the board wanted to ensure they would find reliable rescue partners in Turkey. And they were concerned the dogs might be feral and unable to adapt to domestic life, Tamm said.
'Sweet, sweet, sweet'
They found the exact opposite, she said, greeted instead by kisses and tail-wagging.
"We didn't meet a golden that wasn't sweet, sweet, sweet," the volunteer chairwoman said. "And the volunteers there said, 'You're not going to go home empty-handed, are you?'"
How could they?
Each came home with two dogs, all four of which are now settled in new homes, Tamm said.
Another 18 dogs came over in January, a venture that costs roughly $1,750 for each animal. Golden Rescue plans to bring about 16 to 20 dogs to Canada each month, which it will offset through donations and a $500 adoption fee.
No animal euthanasia in Turkey
Turkish municipal officials and rescue groups don't euthanize the animals, following mass protests in 2012, Tamm and Germany's Deuche Welle report. And the economic downturn, which hit Greece and neighbouring Turkey especially hard, also led to an increase in abandoned pets, Golden Rescue and their partners said.
Municipal officials have instead begun spaying and neutering stray dogs to try to control their population, according to the German broadcaster.
And volunteers are also reaching out to groups like Golden Rescue and others in the U.S.
The dogs arriving in Mississauga are already spoken for, but Tamm said there will be plenty more arriving in March. And, unlike some rescue groups, the organization does adopt out to those living in condos — provided they commit to giving their pets regular exercise, she said.
"Dogs, in general, don't care if your home is 500 square feet or 5,000 square feet," she said. "They're usually just happy to be hanging out around your feet."