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Istanbul residents rally around their beloved stray dogs

As part of Istanbul's modernization push, the government wants to kick its dogs off the streets and into parks. Some city residents are howling. 

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Few aspects of Istanbul's government-driven gentrification efforts have caused as much angst as a scheme to do away with the city's legions of stray dogs and cats. 

In recent weeks, several thousand people have marched through Istanbul and other Turkish cities in protest of a draft law that envisions the rounding up and relocation of stray animals to specially created "natural habitat parks."

The law pits efforts to revamp the booming city against a mind-set that remains strong within older districts, where street animals are seen as legitimate denizens of the city.

"These are the neighborhood's dogs," says Hamit Yilmaz Ozcan, as he sits with Chico, an elderly Alsatian, and Hercule, his younger, rust-colored companion, two strays that reside near his clothing shop in the neighborhood of Cukurcuma.

"They protect us and everyone loves them."

The government has expressed bafflement at the resistance, insisting its aim is to protect strays from the danger and hunger they face on the streets.

Authorities say the dogs and cats will be fed and cared for at the new "habitat parks" situated on city outskirts, where they will be visited by schoolchildren and available for adoption.

"The proposed law aims to make animals live," the Ministry of Forestry and Water, which drafted the bill, said in a statement last month. "The aim is to prevent bad treatment of animals, clarify institutional responsibilities, and to strengthen the mechanisms of animal ownership.”

Currently Turkey's strays are rounded up by municipal authorities, who generally vaccinate and spay or neuter them before releasing them back onto the streets with ear tags.

Animal rights activists are suspicious of government motives.

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