Turkey Regulating Pet Ownership: Want a Dog? Take a Course

Get caught abusing an animal and you could face a fine of up to $950, under amendments to Animal Rights law, Hurriyet reports.

Pet dog (Tomer Appelbaum)
Want a pet pooch in Turkey? First take the course on animal care. Tomer Appelbaum

Pet ownership has been rising sharply in Turkey as the median income improves and attitudes change, and now Ankara has decided it's time to regulate. Amendments to the Animal Rights bill passed this week lay down the criteria to own animals, and set minimal conditions for the animal's comfort and wellbeing.

More draconically, the amendments require that future pet owners undergo training first – and graduate with an animal-care certificate, Hurriyet reports.

In a 2007 book The Welfare of Cats, edited by Irene Rochlitz, Penny Bernstein of Kent State University reports that pet ownership in Turkey (and Brazil, China and Thailand) has been spiking. Pet ownership in Turkey rose 39% from 1998 to 2002, though it bears saying that dogs and cats were not particularly popular there – neither made it to the top 15 pets Turks kept during those years: smaller animals such as rabbits were more popular.

The first criterion for owning a pet is having suitable accommodation that meets the pet's ethological needs, Hurriyet reports. The owner must also care for its health; presently the sub-committee dealing with animal rights is also discussing creating a requirement to take any animal hurt in a traffic accident for veterinary treatment.

Abuse has been criminalized for the first time: torturing or ill-treating an animal can result in prison sentences, following the amendments. The penalties are not trivial, at least for homeowners: Get caught causing torture and you could face a 2,000-lira fire ($942 at today's exchange rate).

Deliberate maltreatment of animals (that falls short of torture) will run you half that amount, and walking your dog without a leash and muzzle will set you back 500 liras, or $236.

"Those who sell and own pets are obliged to participate in training programs," says the law, according to Hurriyet's translation.

The Turkish lawmaker had an eye out for the people, too. While about it, anybody selling or adopting a pet must "take precautionary measures to prevent environmental pollution," and will have to pay compensation if the animal causes discomfort to others.

Casual euthanasia is frowned upon, and animal experiments will require approval by ethics councils, the law says. Bestiality is another no-no – and that offense will lead to jail time, of up to two years, says Hurriyet.

How the Turkish authorities mean to enforce the amendments remains to be seen. Also, one thing the committee has not regulated yet is animal sacrifice, which remains a not-uncommon practice. Following news of the amendment, surfers discussed this issue on Turkish Internet forums, in part vying to tell stories of the suffering the animals experience during inefficient sacrifice practices.

Like in Israel, the streets in urban Turkey are thronged with strays. But in Israel the strays are mainly cats: Turkey has a huge problem with stray dogs, going back at least centuries, and Turks generally have evinced a horror of killing the animals for the sake of "population control" even though rabies is definitely a problem.

Writing about fictional events in the late 16th century in his book "My name is Red," the Nobel-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk describes the distaste many Turks - as Muslims - traditionally felt for dogs, explaining that they were considered "unclean." However, attitudes do change.

And if you feel like moving to Turkey with your personal pets anyway, keep this in mind: one person may take no more than two animals per entry into Turkey, be it cats or dogs or both. More than that and you're considered to be trafficking in pets.

In Israel, the Knesset enacted the Animal Rights law in 1994, criminalizing abuse and handing down a sentence of up to three years' prison time for offenders. Even siccing one animal onto another is prohibited, so dog fights are out; abandoning the animal is also against the law. One effect the law has had was to end the cruel practice of force-feeding geese to cause liver bloat for the sake of making foie gras.