How Turkey's wedding season could help feed stray cats and dogs

Savas Cikrak is openly obsessed with Istanbul's street cats and dogs. Like many in Turkey's largest city, he sees them more as neighbours than strays. He tells CBC News about his new project to help make sure they're all well taken care of.

'You get married, they eat, we take the pictures'

Turkish photographer has unique method to get food for strays 1:30

Long before cats ruled Facebook and Instagram feeds, the cats of Istanbul ruled Turkey's largest city. And they still do.

They claim entire booths in coffee shops as their own, curl up on cars, scratch motorcycle seats at whim, pose for pictures and, on occasion, jump on someone's lap, uninvited. This is their city; everyone else is just visiting.

Istanbul's cats — and to a lesser degree its dogs — are unofficial tourist attractions here.
TV director and animal lover Savas Cikrak says he doesn't want to see Istanbul's strays disappear, but he does want them to be taken care of. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

The people of Istanbul love their four-legged neighbours. They see them as neighbours. And many make sure the animals have food and water.

Savas Çikrak, a TV director, has his own cats at home in Istanbul. How many is a closely guarded secret. But Cikrak is also openly obsessed with the animals he can't take in. He knows the regulars in his local park, and when he spots a friend he hasn't seen in a while, he shouts, "Çakir!" The dog comes running, responding to his name.

Çakir has a red plastic tag on his ear like the other dogs here, showing he's been neutered and given his shots by city animal services.

Çikrak isn't the only one who makes sure the animals in the park are loved and looked after, but he knows not every neighbourhood is as generous.

Looking through his camera lens one day, he came up with an idea he hopes will help make sure all of Turkey's street animals are well fed.

"One day I was taking pictures and I thought, 'We could take pictures. We could take wedding pictures… We could use this to benefit animals.' "

'Food for Frames'

Here's the deal: You buy 1,500 Turkish liras — about $750 Canadian — worth of pet food and you'll get a professional photographer to capture your wedding.

Çikrak and his small team — just five people in total — have a list of locations, shelters and neighbourhoods that have applied to receive the food. A roster of volunteers is filling up.

He connects the couples with the locations in need of food and they arrange to have it dropped off. On the couple's wedding day, Çikrak or one of his colleagues becomes their personal wedding photographer. They only ask for transportation fees if the wedding is outside Istanbul.

Two of Istanbul's tens of thousands of stray cats and dogs lounge on their street corner. Rather than seen as nuisances, they are generally loved by the city's residents. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

The average cost for a wedding photographer is usually in the thousands.

Çikrak has been using social media ahead of wedding season to spread the word.

In just one month, 15 couples signed up for "Doyuran Kareler" or, loosely translated, "Food for Frames."

"Fifteen weddings and 25-30,000 liras worth of food in one month — not bad," he says.

Since the interview, that number has jumped to 26 weddings and Çikrak says more requests are coming in.

Healthy, not hidden

Çikrak is adamant that his project won't see Istanbul's cats and dogs disappear from the city's streets.

Cakir is a beloved neighbour in Istanbul's Moda district. Like many street dogs, he's been neutered and given shots by municipal workers before being let free again. (Nil Köksal/CBC)
"We shouldn't shove them in shelters. If we want to take ownership of them we can, but I want to see animals on the streets. But I want to see them healthy."

The first Food for Frames wedding is set for May 9, though the team has already photographed other events in exchange for pet food: a children's birthday party and a corporate event.

"If people offer us money, we don't accept it. This is entirely a social responsibility project. There's no economic expectation here."

Cikrak does expect the endeavour will grow in Turkey and hopes it may even inspire others around the world.

"The help you offer them," Çikrak says, "it will definitely make you feel good."

Watch the video to hear more about the program and see some of the animals Savas Çikrak is hoping to help.

About the Author

Nil Köksal is the host of World Report, CBC's flagship national radio news show. She begins her mornings with more than a million loyal listeners. She recently returned from her post as CBC’s foreign correspondent in Turkey.


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