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Happy Dogs of Campus: Turkish university gives home to strays

A university in central Turkey hopes to set an example for other institutions of higher learning by dedicating a part of its vast campus to stray dogs. The “Happy Dogs of Campus” project by Niğde Ömer Halisdemir University in the central province of Niğde, supported by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, currently hosts about 60 dogs, providing the animals with accommodation, food and health care services.

Most universities in the country house large spaces and attract stray animals. Though stray dogs pose a danger to staff and students elsewhere, the university in Niğde found a way to integrate them into campus life.

All dogs are “tagged,” a procedure applied to sterilized, properly vaccinated dogs. Throughout the day, they mingle with students and staff while the university’s Animal Lovers Club caters to their every need. University rector professor Hasan Uslu told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Thursday that they currently address the animals’ basic needs and plan to further expand the space they are hosted in the future “to give them a place where they can play.” A dog playground is set to open in July as they want to “do more” for the animals, Uslu says.

Professor Mustafa Karatepe, an adviser to the Animal Lovers Club, says they wanted to improve the quality of life of dogs living on the campus grounds. Karatepe said they placed dog food plate stands across the campus and treated the sick dogs. “Our club informs the students on animal rights and wants to endear them to dogs,” he said.

The club’s head, Burak Demirkol, a journalism student, says they regularly buy food and other basic supplies for the dogs. “We brought vets and got them vaccinated. Some dogs here were puppies without a mother but we cared for them,” he says.

“We touched their lives and instilled a love for animals in other people here on the campus. It makes us happy to see dogs almost smiling when they see us,” says Sümeyye Gökpınar, a student attending to the dogs’ needs.

Stray dogs are at the heart of a safety debate nowadays due to seemingly increasing attacks on humans. Animal rights activists decry what they view as discrimination towards dogs over the outcry against dog attacks while critics say the dogs should be taken off the streets, as the government seeks to find a balanced approach to the issue. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month that the matter was “serious” and urged the municipalities, in charge of the care of dogs, to take measures to prevent attacks without harming the animals. The safest way appears to be the sterilization of dogs, somewhat costly for some municipalities, while animal lovers complain about the lack of capacity in animal shelters, the next destination for aggressive dogs.

In the last 18 years, more than 2.1 million stray animals have been vaccinated, more than 1.8 million have been sterilized and 461,762 have been adopted from animal shelters, according to official figures. While financial support was provided to 81 local governments in 56 provinces for the construction of animal shelters between 2009 and 2021, necessary amendments were made to the legislation and inspections were tightened. In addition to the rehabilitation of these animals, efforts are also being made on issues such as ownership, legal regulations and control. Municipalities and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also support the projects under the coordination of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

The Animal Protection Law was also updated last year and penalties were adjusted as new regulations on the subject were issued. Stray animals were not forgotten in the new regulations either. Metropolitan municipalities, provincial municipalities and municipalities with a population of more than 75,000 are required to establish animal shelters by the end of the year while municipalities with a population of between 25,000 and 27,000 have until Dec. 31, 2024.

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