The Street Dogs of Kalkan by Jane Cunningham

The town of Kalkan sits in a small bay on the Lycean coast of south-west Turkey, surrounded by dramatic, rugged hills and the glistening navy-green of the Mediterranean sea.

Once the only safe harbour between the larger towns of Kaş and Fethiye, Kalkan’s boats are now predominantly for tourist trips to neighbouring bays and islands, although the port is still used as a haven when seas are rough.

Kalkan’s history is evident; preservation and building codes are strict to protect its 19th century listed buildings, many of which retain wooden balconies and traditional red tiled roofs.

Thriving until the 1950’s, Kalkan’s population disappeared along with sea trade with the advent of road improvements. What remained, however, were unwanted dogs.

A common practice since Ottoman times, abandoning dogs avoids the ‘sin’ of killing a dog and Kalkan, with high visitor numbers and 200 thriving restaurants, attracts unwanted dogs from villages and towns in the surrounding area.

As a visitor to Kalkan in high summer, you may be oblivious to gangs of street dogs, who disappear to seek shade. Go in the cool of spring though and you can’t fail to meet them.

It’s estimated that at least 150 street dogs of indeterminate heritage roam the favoured abandoning spot of Kalkan; un-tethered and unhindered by owners, the dogs survive on scraps and water left for them by sympathetic summer residents and restaurants.

No one knows how many stray dogs and cats there are in Turkey but Istanbul alone is estimated to have as many as 150,000 free roaming dogs.

What makes Kalkan different to other tourist towns in Turkey, and Kalkan street dogs luckier than most, is an organization called KAPSA (Kalkan Association for the Protection of Street Animals), founded in 2008.

Kalkan’s canine population live in the town, divided into invisible territories, and they’re allowed to wander at will into shops and restaurants although they are rapidly shoo-ed away from food areas.

Their desire for human contact is endearing; if you stay at the top of the town, you’ll be accompanied down to the harbour more often than not by as many as five street dogs at a time. An entirely different posse will accompany you back again.

They don’t attach in any physical sense; Kalkan dogs don’t expect to be petted or patted (although they enjoy physical contact), but to simply to engage with the wider social human pack.

Don’t imagine a dog version of Gangs of New York – they are predominantly friendly and accepting with some becoming treasured ‘community dogs’, cared for by a number of residents.

Street dogs are characteristically sandy coloured, dark eyed and rangy; a layman’s guess might be a mix of Alsatian and Labrador, with the occasional oddity of large bodied and short-legged Corgi types.

For animals that lead such an independent existence, they are curiously devoid of traffic-sense, lurching out in front of cars, chasing motorbikes or racing across roads with no expectation of being flattened – which sometimes, of course, they are.

To understand the existence of Kalkan’s street dogs, you have to first understand the rural Turkish attitude to animals. Maggi Celik, 49, is originally from Hertfordshire, but now lives and works in Kalkan.

Founding member of KAPSA, she is part of a group of volunteers who care for street animals and educate to improve their living conditions. “Turkish dogs don’t usually live inside; they’re not always considered household pets and sometimes kept more for security.” Although some Turkish people will have dogs as house pets many more will keep a dog outside their house, giving it food and water but allowing it to roam freely.

While there is a low, but not insignificant, incidence of physical cruelty, abandonment is depressingly regular. Maggi says, “Locals feel it is kinder to abandon their animals than to have them put to sleep, and because there is no culture of neutering, the population explodes.

The dogs that are abandoned in Kalkan are the lucky ones; many are just dumped in the surrounding forest. ” In the surrounding hills, huge numbers of feral dogs who have never known human contact exist from scavenging rubbish dumps.

Not all Kalkan residents are so tolerant of street dogs. In 2003 a local businessman took it upon himself to lay down poison. He apparently killed at least 50 dogs. However, a recent plan to poison the street dogs was quietly thwarted by other locals who immediately alerted KAPSA. Turkish animal protection laws are clear and unequivocal. The Animal Protection Bill Law (No 5199, June 24, 2004) states:

‘Domesticated animals have the freedom to live according to the living conditions specific to their species. The lives of ownerless animals should be supported in the same way as those of animals with owners. The necessary measures must be taken in order to protect, supervise and care for animals and shield them from maltreatment.’

Some residents, mainly ex-pats, support culling. Tourists inevitably suggest a dog’s home, but with the incidence of re-homing very low, it’s no solution at all.

“Kalkan isn’t big enough to re-home many dogs and it would encourage yet more abandoned dogs as has happened in larger towns,’ explains Maggi. “A dogs’ home is never the solution to a stray dog problem unless the surrounding population is big enough to re-home the animals.

The number of dogs being dumped in Kalkan would go up enormously because it would be assumed that Kalkan has a solution for canine overpopulation. ”

Currently, Kalkan’s street dogs are relatively well protected. KAPSA runs a winter programme of feeding to ensure that once the swollen summer population disappears, food and water sources don’t completely go with them, treating sick and injured dogs along the way.

The charity has also instigated a neutering programme both in Kalkan and neighbouring village, Akbel, and the arrival of a street animal friendly vet in Kalkan has helped considerably.

Volunteers from Kapsa regularly run catching missions to neuter and vaccinate them to reduce long term numbers. Locals that support their work often know where dogs can be found.

New un-neutered arrivals are often taken to him by visitors or locals, with the (reduced) bill met by KAPSA.

Local resident and KAPSA Chairman, Atilla Atalay, 67, has kept detailed paperwork that reveals 199 dogs (and 530 cats) have been neutered by KAPSA in a 3 year period. The animals are given help to recover and then returned to the location of their collection according to W.H.O. Geneva, Guidelines for Dog Population Management recommendations.

Dogs are given numbered ear tags, while cats have the tip of one ear clipped to signify they are vaccinated and neutered. KAPSA also registers all dogs when they are neutered. A form is filled in with a photo of the dog, its tag number, weight, sex and details of where it came from. At the present time, KAPSA receives no local government funding.

Occasionally, a street dog simply disappears. While feeling the freedom to abandon animals, local residents from neighbouring hillside villages also feel free to help themselves when they need a new dog. Maggi views this as a positive. “We hope they have gone back into hills to work on a farm, but we don’t ever really know where they end up.”

Despite KAPSA successful outreach and education in schools and local areas, along with free neutering days and a leafleting campaign, deeply ingrained attitudes to dogs are hard to change.

While Maggi feels the schoolchildren they reach understand the importance of neutering, older generations can’t turn their back on tradition.

Just before I left Kalkan, a Turkish man proudly showed me his puppy, rescued at two weeks old from a near-by beach. He had bottle fed her every couple of hours for many days until she gained strength. “We won’t have her neutered until she has at least one litter,” he explained. “We don’t want to damage her psyche.”

For KAPSA donation details, please visit KAPSA’s website.

About the author: Jane Cunningham is a dog lover and beauty blogger for the site Jane actively campaigns against puppy farming and is a supporter of PupAid.

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6 replies

  1. I’m currently in kalkan and as a dog lover can’t help but see the plight of some but not all of these street dogs. We have been saving food and feeding the dogs and have adopted two cats at our villa. Some seem desperate for a vet. We worry about these well mannered and friendly creatures who are scraping an existence and would love to help. I have a farm in england and we regularily have charity events for horses and am wondering if we could help in anyway the street dogs of kalkan?

  2. Im a regular visitor to Kalkan which I love. The only black mark on the place is the packs of feral dogs that roam the town at will intimidating visitors, fighting with each other and causing traffic accidents.
    It seems ridiculous thar this is encouraged by do-gooders with food and pharmaceuticals being supplied so that these packs of dogs can grow in number and thrive to the detriment of the people and visitors of Kalkan. Heaven knows there are enough starving and medically deprived children in the world towards whom this misguided largesse could be directed.
    It is a mistake to refer to these animals as domesticated.feral dogs are pack animals with a pack leader. For a domesticated dog the leader is its owner. Without owners these dogs are wild. It is only a matter of time before a pack of these dogs attacks someone, probably a vunerable disabled or old person or child, with possible fatal consequences. In fact I,m sure such attacks have already happened, but have been kept quiet.
    If owners can’t be found for these dogs they should be rounded up and humanely destroyed.

  3. I just returned from Kalkan this week and I have to say the dogs I saw didn’t bother me in the slightest. It was very obvious that they were on the whole looking well fed and all the dogs I saw were very ‘waggy tailed’ on approach. It was fairly obvious to me some seem happy to do what they are doing and just going about their business whereas others were obviously craving a bit of comfort from a friendly human.
    Why should you as a regular ‘visitor’ have any rights over these dogs that were born and live there? For ‘your’ own comfort as a tourist? And yes, there are many starving children in the world and many people also helping or trying to help them too. Don’t tar the kind people in Kalkan who are doing a good job helping the animals with being irresponsible for not helping starving children. This comment is ridiculous under the context of this article I think it is you who are very misguided in your views. You also say ‘In fact’ and ‘I’m sure’ that these animals have attacked and it has been kept quiet? Do you really know this for a ‘Fact’? And are you really 100% ‘Sure’? Where are your facts then? Instead of wasting your energy trying to undo the good work of the kindly vet and volunteers of Kapsa, why not spend it either doing something kind or else speaking up for starving children, I am sure your time could be more positively utilised.

  4. Bekki sorry I have only just seen your comment, rather late I am afraid. But yes that would be great if you could help. We are always looking for ways to raise funds. Please have a look at our new website or email us at
    John Graham your comments astound me. Apart from being rather rude, they are also totally inaccurate and show that you know nothing about the work that Kapsa is doing or about Turkish culture and the law. Maybe you too would care to look at our website.
    MI thank you for your words of support.

  5. John Graham I found your post rude and ridiculous in the extreme. I have lived in Kalkan for many years. I have yet to meet a feral dog, I am also not aware of huge packs of feral dog fights. The dogs are regulary fed and yes of course medication is employed when necessary. But the dogs are, in the main, neutered so they do not breed and increase so yes they do thrive. When I moved here the dogs were in a sad state medically and very hungry what KAPSA has done for these animals is absolutely wonderful. I think you will also find that regular fundraisers take place not just for the dogs but also for the schools and the children, the misguided largesse you refer to is helping not only dogs and cats of Kalkan. You say you are a regular visitor to Kalkan, then you must have seen the improvement in the street animals, and they are street animals not feral packs. We live in Turkey, we are visitors, albeit long term visitors, you are a very short term visitor, and to make the sort of statements you have made would harm tourism and therefore the health and care of these animals. The animals you refer to are Turkish animals and actually have a great deal more right to be here than you, and to say you are ‘sure’ attacks have taken place is more than an inane comment it is simply stupid. Do please prove your facts !!! MI your post was supportive and logical, quite the reverse of Mr Graham’s post and a pleasure to read.

  6. A message to John Graham, why don,t you busy yourself helping the starving and negelected children in the world and stop holidaying in Kalkan and leave the dogs there alone and the people who are trying to help the situation. I have been there and seen the dogs and there are no dogs intimidating holidaymakers that I have seen. The only thing that will be intimidating to holiday makers are selfish people like yourself!!

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