Why you should care
Because this country loves cats more than the Internet.
Pet Love: A global look at cozy relationships between people and animals
From a ledge way up high, there’s a quiet mewing. Oh, no — a tiny kitten has fallen and can’t get up! No worries, and no need to call the fire department, either. There’s no better place on earth for this feline to have a crisis.
In Turkey, people crowdsource cat care.
Cats here don’t really have owners. Rather, Turkish citizens leave out bowls of water, pieces of bread with milk and even beds for felines around town. People welcome them for hangouts into offices, cafes and homes. According to Juergen Horn, who runs a Tumblr about Turkish cats — and who rescued that kitten stuck on a ledge — every area has what amounts to a neighborhood watch for felines. Two quirky native breeds even enjoy legal protection due to their rarity: A “true” Van cat has an amber eye and a blue eye, while the Angora variety is the only known breed that likes swimming.
Though Istanbul’s cats can credit a certain degree of new fame to blogs and Instagram accounts, the love affair predates the Internet. Cats have a special place in Muslim society, explains Abdullah Ali, senior faculty of Islamic law at Zaytuna College. In fact, these “ritually pure” animals are considered to bring “divine grace and favor” to their caretakers, says Asad Ahmed, associate professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of California Berkeley. The Prophet Muhammad’s love of cats is well documented; he reportedly had a favorite pet kitty named Muezza. The “most prolific narrator” of the Prophet’s messages went by the nickname Abu Hurayra, which means “father of cats,” notes Ali.
But it’s not a complete free-for-all (thank goodness — does no one in Turkey have cat allergies?). Turkey has passed laws about feral felines, including an official policy to trap, neuter and release animals. A number of animal nonprofits care for sick street kitties. And not all animals receive the same Turkish warm embrace: In certain Muslim legal schools, dogs are considered unclean, explains Ali. Plus, packs of wild dogs might be a bit more intimidating than street gangs that meow and sip saucers of milk.
So forget the famed cat cafes of Japan — where you can share a table with a feline — and consider Turkey, where petting cats is as easy as walking down the street.