Dr. Cirak said social media have played a big role. He runs a Facebook group of over 10,000 people to support street animals in Kadikoy, his home district. Group members help his teams identify, catch and treat the animals in need. They also help many dogs find permanent homes: Dr. Cirak said that about 40 percent of the dogs in the center get adopted to be guard dogs in farms and factories, or by families. Many of these adoptions start on social media when he shares a picture of a dog in need of a home.
Social media has also spread memes celebrating Turkey’s new fondness for street animals. A critically acclaimed documentary, “Kedi,” which means “Cat” in Turkish, explored the history of Istanbul’s feline residents and their importance in urban culture — making the city’s cats world famous. Videos went viral around the globe of an imam petting cats in a mosque, a tram stopping to wait for a stray cat to finish drinking water from the ground and a shopping mall letting dogs sleep inside, wrapped in blankets, during a snowstorm. There are even statues of street animals in some cities.
Ahmet Kemal Senpolat, a lawyer who is president of the Animal Rights Federation, said that Turkey still has much still to do to protect street animals — that the laws have significant loopholes. Cruelty, he said, is usually not punished adequately, if at all. If a municipality team commits inhumane acts toward animals, it will probably be ignored, he added. He said such dangers to the animals are often found in municipalities not following the proper procedures, rather than being isolated cases caused by individuals.
“Some municipalities dump hundreds of dogs to forests to get rid of them,” he said. In the process, these dogs become wilder and more aggressive, posing a greater risk to the nearest communities. Dogs abandoned in the wild are also more likely to carry rabies because they are less likely to be neutered, vaccinated and controlled.
Furthermore, not all municipalities in Turkey have the same resources or levels of compassion toward animals, Mr. Senpolat said. And even if their intentions are the best, their methods might be inefficient. “They have big budgets now, but they don’t always manage it well,” he said. “Sometimes they waste millions.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Senpolat also acknowledged progress. “Fifteen years ago, we wouldn’t even be having these conversations,” he said.
The love of street animals has become so much a part of the national psyche that it even brings people together in a politically polarized country. On March 31, Turkey held elections for new leaders in 81 provinces and 957 towns. Ahead of these elections, Mr. Senpolat created a manifesto titled “I promise.” It was a plea to protect and improve the lives of animals, particularly street animals.