How Istanbul’s abandoned street dogs end up in America

Istanbul (CNN)In an unassuming home in a tidy neighborhood of Istanbul, you can hear the occupants long before you see them.

They greet you with more warmth and affection than you can take in. Except for one very tiny fellow, who greets strangers by baring teeth and barking until you stop looking into his eyes.

Ultimately they all want two things.

“They cannot talk. They don’t steal. They just want food and affection.”

Yasemin Baban knows exactly what they want, because she has spent the last decade rescuing them from the streets and forests of Istanbul. Baban has made it her mission to find homes for stray dogs, no matter where it takes her or the animals.

    “I have dedicated my life to saving dogs and cats and domesticated animals here,” Baban said.

    In a strange twist of fate, she has found homes for dozens of the dogs nearly 6,000 miles from Istanbul — in the United States. Specifically, Atlanta.

    “It’s amazing. It feels like a dream,” Baban said.


    Not as healthy as they look

    But many end up in the forested areas surrounding Istanbul. Just because many look relatively well-fed and are not aggressive toward people, all is not well. Baban is trying to get that message across to those who think she is running some sort of dog racket or has ulterior motives.

    “From the dogs we rescued that flew to America last, about 40% had broken teeth with nerves out in their mouth. Imagine how much pain they are in,” Baban said. “A dog cannot speak and the people believe they are in good condition. But they are not. They have no chance to be medically checked in foster (homes) or in shelters here.”

    That’s where Adopt a Golden Atlanta comes in. In Turkey, Baban and her volunteers make sure the dogs have a microchip for identification, are spayed or neutered, and have a good enough bill of health to be shipped in crates and flown to America.

    Once they get to AGA, they are given whatever medical attention they need, which can be quite expensive. The charitable organization relies on donors to keep afloat, and you can follow a dog’s progress online.

    “I can’t thank them enough, as well as the … American people who take them in,” Baban said.

    Trying to help other breeds too

    The program has become so popular that other golden retriever rescues in the United States are also taking in “Turkey dogs.” So far, more than 200 have been sent over from Istanbul.

    At the “doggy hotel” in Istanbul, more have arrived from the streets and forests. And they are just some of the dogs brought in from the streets.

    “They are very lovely and social dogs, and if we can save them now, why not?” Baban said.

    She is also trying to find homes for other breeds that are abandoned in high numbers, like German shepherds and a variety of dogs used for hunting. She knows her work will likely never be done.

    It is not lost on Baban that there are human beings, namely Syrian refugees, who are also gathering in large numbers on the borders and in the streets of her country, who also would love a chance at going to the United States. It is simply beyond her power to singlehandedly change that. But she says helping abandoned animals is not.

    “A dog cannot talk and cannot say what he is suffering from. A dog doesn’t know to beg. A human, worst-case scenario, can at least steal to stay alive. They can explain themselves. A dog has no chances in a city like this,” Baban said.


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