The case of a mutilated puppy in north-western Turkey that shocked the country this summer has put its inadequate animal welfare legislation in the spotlight.
Close to death having had all four paws and its tail cut off, the stray dog was found in woods in the Sapanca district of Sakarya province on June 16. Although the puppy was immediately taken to a vet for treatment, it did not survive its massive injuries and died two days later.
After photos of the bandaged puppy went viral on social media, the brutal case even became an election issue, with Turkish president RecepTayyip Erdoğan pledging to prioritise animal rights and tighten up existing legislation if he was re-elected on June 24.
Animal rights activists say that the main problem is that Turkish law treats killing a stray animal as a misdemeanour punishable only by a fine, rather than as a crime. Mistreatment of a pet is viewed as a property violation and can result in up to three years’ imprisonment.
They are demanding significant changes to the existing law, including increasing the possible prison term from three to eight years for those who deliberately kill stray or pet animals.
In addition, campaigners want a sentence of between two to five years for those who mistreat or neglect animals and a two to seven-year term for those who organise fights between animals.
The Turkish Bar Association is also backing animal rights activists in their demands to change the existing law and has requested government permission to intervene directly in cases when animals’ rights have been violated.
In the case of the puppy, a bulldozer operator was arrested on suspicion of causing the injuries as he worked in the woods. The minister of interior, Süleyman Soylu, said at the time that he had no doubt that was the bulldozer that injured the puppy.
The driver was kept in custody for eight days before being released due to lack of evidence on June 26, two days after the elections.
Deniz Tavşancıl Kalafatoğlu, vice president of the animal rights department of the İstanbul Bar Association, explained that the law as it stood was rarely enforced.
Those who kill or torture someone’s pet can receive a sentence between four months and three years in prison for “damaging another person’s property”. However, he claims that such sentences are rarely imposed.
“In those cases, a fine is much more common,” he said.
Kalafatoğlu noted that stray animals had even less protection.
“No matter what crime is committed against a stray or wild animal, the perpetrator will be punished only by an administrative fine. In our view, these penalties cannot deter future crimes,” he said.
He suggests that special police units be set up to deal with crimes involving killing and torturing animals.
“The police should not see this as an additional burden, as they see it now,” he said.
Although Erdogan, as predicted, did win re-election, there has been no further movement on reform to the existing legislation on animal welfare.
Kalafatoğlu said that in addition to new legislation, a programme of public education, particularly for children, was essential for real change.
“The ministry of national Education should inform children at schools about the animals’ rights and how to protect them,” he continued. “That’s the only long-term solution.”