Dana (who’s been on my mind a bunch lately, maybe because we haven’t spoken in a minute) once said that she wanted to come back as one of my grandmother’s cats. It’s not a bad placement if you ever find yourself having any say-so in your reincarnation options, but if I were you I’d keep that as my plan B “safety” next life, and I’d focus my energies on polishing my essay for why you want to come back as a stray dog in Kadikoy.
(In my conception of the hindu afterlife, cycling through the samsara is apparently a lot like getting into college.)
When I first put my Stays of Istanbul set up on Flickr, I got an e-mail from an acquaintance saying, among other things, how when she was in Istanbul she was HEARTBROKEN, (caps not mine) by all the homeless dogs and cats here, and she couldn’t understand how Turkish people could allow it or why I would celebrate it.
If Istanbul were like just about any city in America, especially Baltimore, where animal cruelty has been on the rise for the past few years, and where a street dog’s life is short and brutal, her emotional response would have been appropriate. If you see a dog wandering around without a human parent in Baltimore and you don’t try to find its person or get it to a shelter, you’re kind of a jerk. I have a friend who hopped off a bike once and chased and somehow caught a cat, and then spent considerable time and energy finding that cat a suitable home. There’s a whole system of fostering animals, for Christ’s sake, that seems ridiculous from this side of the Atlantic, because if the government would just step up with a tagging program and dole out some vaccines and fixings, and if the citizens would just be BETTER, just a little bit BETTER, and not scoop up lost dogs for dog fights or set them on fire, then you could just set out a bowl of kibble and walk away with a clean conscience.
Because these dogs are happy.
There’s a dude who sometimes crashes in our garden, a big fat sandy-colored mutt I inventively call Blonde Dog. He has a buddy I equally inventively call Black Dog. I don’t know where Black Dog sleeps when Blonde Dog sleeps on the concrete pad by our dumpster, but I know that when Blonde Dog graces us with his presence, Black Dog ambles by, usually sometime between 4 and 6 in the morning, and the two start arguing. (Which explains Blonde Dog’s nick name: That Asshole. As in, “That Asshole barked from 4:30 until the first call for prayer this morning, so don’t judge me for chain drinking nescafe.”) I don’t know what happens to their friendship at night, but during the day they’re the best of buds. They remind me, again, of Dana and I when we were little. We were as close as sisters and did just about everything together, but every playdate devolved into an energetically fraught argument. I remember a big one when we were six or so, about a barbie I’d said I’d lend her, but reneged on at the last minute. It took her literally years to forgive me. It still comes up, sometimes, at Thanksgiving. I lay awake listening to the dogs in the early hours, idly fantasizing about b.b. guns, and filling in the words. “But you SAID I could sleep on the concrete pad! You’re hogging all the kitchen waste!” “I KNOW I SAID IT BUT I CHANGED MY MIND I’M ALLOWED TO CHANGE MY MIND LEAVE ME ALONE OR I’LL TELL MY MOM!!!”
Yesterday when I came out of the house Blonde dog was sprawled across our path and Black Dog was standing in the street, just chilling. Blonde Dog turned his head around and looked at me expectantly.
“Don’t look at me, jerk,” I said. “I’m mad at you.” His tail went thump thump thump against the pavement. Black Dog cocked his head inquisitively at me as I passed and gave a little happy yip. I rolled my eyes. “You are both BAD DOGS,” I said. Blonde Dog rolled over on his back and yawned. When I came back from the store they were gone.
Later, from the sun porch window I saw them on their way down to the sea park at the end of our street.
(I’m almost as great a photographer as I am a drawer.)
They were playing some kind of demented game, I believe the object of which was to be the first to lick the parked cars, and as they zig-zagged down the street I thought I have seldom seen such happy dogs in the states. And it seemed to me that that moment, watching those two zig-zag down to the sea on a sunny afternoon, and cars slow to wait for them to get out of the way, and them oblivious to everything but what they were doing, that moment summed up what I find so fascinating about the street dogs, and why I want to come back as one. Unlike a dog with a proper home, they have agency. Instead of being cooped up in an apartment all day they roam the neighborhood. There are parks,
and busy streets to guard,
and all manner of things to eat from fresh meat at the grocery store or butcher shop, to kibble from the nice old men at the park or at the tea shop, to the leavings at the fish market. There are pigeons to chase and boats to watch and- cars to lick, or whatever those two yokels were doing yesterday. And most of all, there’s companionship. There’s a bunch of these dudes in Kadikoy, and you see them trotting around together, in groups of two or three. Tussling, or just exploring the streets together, or sprawled in a patch of sunlight together. And when you see dogs roaming free and picking their own friends, it starts to seem unnatural to stick them in an apartment and pick their friends for them.
But maybe I’m romanticizing a little, because they remind me of all those books I loved when I was a kid- the Boxcar Children, (oh wait- again it was Dana who loved those, not me) From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, any book, really, where adults were suddenly absent and the kids had to run around by themselves. I think that’s why orphan-hood is such a popular trope in children’s lit: noone WANTS their parents to be killed in a tragic car accident, of course, but what child isn’t secretly, guiltily kind of thrilled by the idea of the ultimate escape from parental authority? What child doesn’t greedily and hungrily consume stories of kids who are left alone to run around having madcap adventures, with no one to tell them what to do?
And that, it seems to me, is a dog’s life in Kadikoy.