When A Record Snowstorm Crippled Istanbul, People Went Above And Beyond For The City’s Stray Animals

When Istanbul experienced a record-breaking snowstorm in early 2017, much of the city ground to a halt. Schools closed, planes were grounded and the city’s roads turned into virtual ice rinks. But the storm also brought out the best in people, many of whom went out of their way to help the city’s vulnerable strays.

At the beginning of January 2017, snow gripped many cities across western Turkey, including its largest. Indeed, the storm practically brought Istanbul to a halt. The city, which has a greater population than any other in Turkey, is in fact the country’s economic hub.

Although snow is not that uncommon in this part of the country, the blizzards of early 2017 marked the largest snowfall in Istanbul since 2009. According to the city’s mayor, Kadir Topbaş, some areas were covered in 47 inches of snow. And the blanket of white wreaked havoc all over Istanbul.

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Originally, a high-pressure weather system across western Europe caused the cold snap. Indeed, the system sent strong, icy winds from Scandinavia and Russia toward the eastern side of the continent. An estimated 60 people died as a result of the harsh conditions, including 20 in Poland.

Unsurprisingly, the freezing temperatures and howling winds shut down Istanbul. For example, the Bosporus, the narrow strait which connects Europe and Asia, closed to shipping traffic due to poor visibility. On top of this, vital commuter ferries that transport workers to either side of the city were cancelled.

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Many of the city’s schools closed and Istanbul’s governor, Vasip Şahin, ordered public sector workers to finish their working day an hour and a half early, at 3:30 p.m., while authorities tried to get on top of the snow. The city used around 90 tons of salt and 370 tons of defrosting fluids to try and keep roads clear. Meanwhile, 7,000 workers tirelessly tried to minimize the storm’s impact on everyday life.

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Still, hundreds of flights were cancelled at the city’s Atatürk and Sabiha Gökçen airports. And the decision left thousands of passengers stranded in Turkey. Those who could board their flights endured long queues at airport terminals.

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After three days the forecast, worryingly, revealed that more snow was coming. And so, with more bad weather on the way, concerns turned to Istanbul’s street animals. Some estimates put the number of the city’s strays at 250,000, while others suggested that there could be as many as one million.

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With temperatures plummeting below freezing, the city’s homeless animals were in grave danger. Just like humans, cats and dogs are susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite. In extreme conditions, these animals can also die from prolonged exposure to the cold.

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On the whole, street animals are treated well in Istanbul. Many locals believe that the strays have as much right to be there as they do. So, it wasn’t long before heartwarming stories of people going out of their way to help the cold creatures emerged.

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One such story went viral thanks to Ali Çelik, who was making his way to work during the snowstorm when something stopped him in his tracks. There, in one of the city’s malls, was a group of dogs that had found a convenient shelter.

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And while in other places the strays may have been shooed away, here they were greeted with love and affection from store owners and members of the public. Indeed, generous strangers laid down cardboard for the animals to rest on, while blankets were also provided. And each pooch also had a supply of food.

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“It was fabulous,” Çelik told The Dodo in January 2017. He revealed that when he asked the good Samaritans their names, they refused to divulge them. “The people were there to help the animals, not so that others could see them helping,” he explained.

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And it seems the scene Çelik had stumbled upon was replicated across the city. The staff at Penti, a clothes shop, also opened their doors to provide a number of cold dogs refuge. And the store’s manager Arzu Inan documented the act of kindness on Facebook.

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Inan shared images of the dogs making themselves at home among the items for sale in her store. One image showed a pooch rolling around on the floor. Another revealed a dog wrapped up in blankets and huddled in a cardboard box for warmth. Then there was a photo of a black canine waiting patiently at Penti’s door.

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“Don’t forget that only true love warms up,” the retail manager wrote alongside her photos. The post has since been liked well over 700 times and has received over 200 comments from around the globe. Inan’s act of kindness, it seems, has touched many hearts.

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“Thank you from Portugal,” read one kind comment. “Animals are pure creatures. They deserve our respect and protection.” Another well wisher added that the selfless gesture was a “beautiful act of kindness by those who understand we’re all in this together.”

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However, despite being hailed as a hero, Inan didn’t think her actions were out of the ordinary. “We take the animals in order to cool [them] in summer and [allow them] to benefit from the hot environment in winter,” she told Turkish newspaper Hürriyet in January 2017. “We even have customers from different districts to see them. We are happy that both our dogs and our customers are happy with the situation.”

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Elsewhere, Tugce Ecevit provided a homeless dog with blankets. Explaining his considerate actions, Ecevit told Hürriyet, “We want to be an example to all people. We think that in this difficult time that our country is in, we can warm people’s hearts in a little while.”

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So, while the snowstorm had frozen much of Istanbul, it was good to see the city’s citizens acting as warmly as ever. If it wasn’t for their selflessness, many animals would have succumbed to the icy conditions. They weren’t able to melt the snow, but they certainly had the ability to melt hearts.

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