Human Interest

Istanbul businessman turns home into haven for dozens of stray animals

By Ilya U. Topper

Istanbul, May 17 (EFE).- Mert Akkök, a 48-year-old businessman who shelters injured and sick animals in his Istanbul garden, has a plethora of exotic flatmates: over a dozen dogs, a horse, a donkey, 46 seagulls and three cats.

Mert started taking in stray dogs over five years ago, the businessman tells Efe while Kadife (Velvet) the donkey prods the glass of tea he is holding.

At the time Mert was living in a flat in downtown Istanbul, but the neighbors soon started to complain and he moved to a home with a garden where he now cares for almost 100 animals.

“They say there are more than a million homeless dogs, not cats, only in Istanbul,” Mert says.

“In Turkey, we have one of the most humanitarian regulations in the world but that keeps the problem ongoing,” he continues. “The regulation in Turkey does not allow the government to kill the dogs.”

“The government just collects them to municipal facilities where they operate and they neuter them, they vaccinate them, they put a tag on their ear and they put them back on the streets. So that is why we have hundreds of them in the city and around the city.”


Mert works in the health sector connecting private hospitals across Europe with potential clients for cosmetic surgery, hair transplants or artificial insemination.

The job requires frequent trips and he pays someone to care for the animals when he is away.

At the end of the garden, a fenced area is home to some 30 seagulls who are all unable to fly. Most of them were chicks that fell out of their nests.

According to Mert, when people find the nestlings and search online for how to care for them, they come across him and his farm.

Three cats share fresh fish with the seagulls every morning.

Two of them were born here, says Mert, and are used to it. The cats even ignore a nest laid on the grass that harbors two olive green eggs.

Once the chicks hatch, they will join the colony of 35 seagulls with disabilities and 11 that can fly. The latter always return to Mert’s garden, despite being able to move about freely.


Kadife is from Diyarbakir, a city in southeastern Anatolia, around 1,000 kilometers from Istanbul.

The foal was found next to her dead mother near the road.

“They knew me from social media and they asked me if I could take Kadife and when I read the story I couldn’t say no, so they sent her with a taxi from that far away city and now she is with me,” says Mert. “In the beginning Reyhan, my horse, she was a bit jealous of her, but now they are very good sisters, they get on very well.”

Reyhan is also an orphan: “She is from a nearby farm, she was born weak and half-blind; when they sold her mother they were going to let her die, so I bought her and raised her with a bottle of milk from another mare from another town. Now she thinks I’m her father.” EFE

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