Dog Days

One Saturday afternoon, when the worst of the floods had passed and experts declared there would finally be sun in Istanbul, I was out in the backyard surveying the damage. Aside from the islands of mud on the white tiles of our patio and several plants missing a significant amount of leaves, the only major wreckage in the garden was the wide muddy river which flowed diagonally from the top of the hill, down past our house on the right side and into a drain at the far left corner of the next door neighbor’s yard. It was marred with deep prints from the maintenance men’s rubber rain boots and from our scramble back and forth across the yard collecting bricks from the street out front to reinforce the back door.

The development is built on a diagonal on a hill, so we are to the left and below our neighbors at the right, and the people next door to us are to the left and farther down the hill than us. Actually, the family at the very bottom of the hill, a couple doors down from us, consisting of a pilot, his wife, their daughter who studies landscape architecture at a local University, and their small son, experienced the worst flooding of anyone else in the development.

Our yard is about a foot below street level, but theirs is about three or four feet below, so they got all the runoff from our yard, which was really from the yard above ours and so on. PLUS they were the recipients of the heavy flow from the street above, which was all the runoff from a huge hill with several developments and a grocery store, but also a lot of empty plots of land that haven’t yet been built up. There was nothing to stop all that rain from flowing a half mile down into their finished basement, which ended up with five feet of water. What’s worse, about a week before, the daughter, Deniz, sat outside drinking tea with us on our patio, and she complained about being exhausted because they had spent the whole day rearranging their basement. All that was no match, however, for the angry rains that came down on Istanbul for several days.

Anyway, I was walking around on the lawn, thinking about the rains and the damage, when I saw a little black puppy, some kind of terrier, sauntering across the grass. I had never seen it before, and it was obviously someone’s pet, as it clearly wasn’t a street dog. It was just strutting around investigating, like me. I wanted to pet it, since I really miss my own dog Portia, a cocker spaniel-poodle mix, and even the smallest contact with an animal does wonders for one’s mood. But the dog had it’s own agenda, and kept skidding away from me and trying to find something. I had followed it all the way to a neighbor’s lawn when I heard something that I periodically heard over the month that I had been here – A dog crying out in pain.

I rushed over to the stight row of short pine trees lining the periphery of the development and hiding the metal fence behind them and looked through a gap in the barricade. I could see a couple of men in one of the empty plots in front of our house. There was a sidewalk bisecting the field, and a large circular piazza of sorts, with some low walls for sitting or leaning. I could make out two men, but I could only fully see one of them. He had a t-shirt tolled up into a rope and held it between two hands, flicking it at a large cream-colored dog, who, taunted, would lurch forward and try to snatch it, at which point a man behind the dog would jump forward and do something that I could not see to the dog, prompting it to cry out.

And then, over in our yard, the little puppy, not looking up from whatever it was sniffing, would instinctively automatically mimic the other dogs yelp. I thought that was kind of funny and strange, because the puppy clearly wasn’t going to try to help the dog, it was going the opposite direction up along the sidewalk in the development, searching intently from something along its invisible track, and no doubt enjoying its freedom. And it wasn’t related to the other dog either - they looked completely different, the puppy being a pure breed and the larger dog looked like some kind of mutt, a stray dog. But, out of compassion for a fellow member of the species, the puppy cried out with each cry of the big cream-colored dog. That made me certain that they were cries of pain and not joy coming from across the street.

I ran up three floors to my bedroom window, which faces the field, and I could see everything. From my bird’s-eye view, I could the T-Shirt Flicker and the Dog Hurter, who was whipping the dog with a dirty white belt or rope, and also a man leaning against the low wall with his arms folded across his body, looking on. I was horrified. The T-Shirt Flicker was darting expertly back and forth, managing to evade the snapping jaws of the agitated dog. He looked as graceful and noble as a fencer engaged in a polite duel for honor, but he was just setting up a poor dog for abuse. As he crouched, arms open and t-shirt suspended between them, knees bent to facilitate quick leaps towards and away from the beast, the man behind held his weapon high in the air, and as the dog jumped forward to pursue his agitator, forgetting for an unfortunate instant the enemy behind him, he would bring the belt down hard onto the backside of the dog, using the full strength of his shoulders. The dog would yelp and turn around to see who had done that to him, but before he could act, the T-Shirt Flicker was back in action, distracting the dog from attacking the Dog Hurter.

I found the whole thing truly disturbing. And, it wasn’t the first time I had seen or heard this. In the past month, I have heard a dog crying out, during dinner or while watching TV. I just thought it was something between two street dogs, some part of the natural world of canine politics and hierarchy, but I didn’t think that humans were responsible. One afternoon, just before sunset, I was trying to read in bed and I heard it, and honestly, it was really distracting me from my book. I looked out the window, annoyed, and I could barely make out three men encircling a dog in the growing twilight. I jumped up to run to Ozgur’s balcony, shouting “They’re beating up a dog! Do something!” But he was napping, and by the time I got to the balcony they were walking away with the dog on a leash, following behind.

This time, I was more aware and sure about what I was seeing and hearing, and I felt guilty for not acting last time. So, without thinking, I leaned my torso out of the window and shouted “HEY!” as I flung my arm out in a gesture of “Come on guys, what are you doing??” They all stopped their intricate dance and looked up at me in confusion, except the dog, who, panting in the middle of his abusers, kept his head level, guarded against any possible surprise attacks. They kept looking at me for a couple long seconds then slowly lowered their instruments of torture and joined the third guy, leaning against the wall. Smug and satisfied that I had saved a dog for at least a few hours from pain and degradation, I grabbed a book and started reading in my bed, occasionally peeking out at them to make sure they were still in check. They were still leaning against the wall.

After about 10 minutes, I heard a “PSST!” from the garden below. I poked my head out to see Ozgur standing below my window. He wanted to know what we should do that night, a Saturday. But as he was laying out the options for the evening, I grew distracted. The men were on the move. Making sure to alternate my attention between Ozgur and the field, I saw them putting a leash on the dog and gathering their belongings. I could tell they were looking up towards my window and discussing me, although they were still far away and I couldn’t clearly see their faces. Ozgur, noticing my distraction, asked me what I was looking at. “The dog men. They’re coming this way.” I hissed, my eyes trained on the field. Two of the men took the dog and walked off up the street, but one of them, the Dog Hurter, was walking towards the entrance of our development, never taking his eyes off of me. “Ozgur! One of them is staring at me and is walking over here!” I whispered with panic. Ozgur, in annoyance that I wasn’t paying attention to him, turned on his heels and went back inside, slamming the screen door.

By now, I was scared. I quickly closed my window and released the blinds, but I was worried. What if I had risked my own safety, and the safety of Ozgur’s family, for the temporary relief of abuse of a dog that I didn’t even know anything about. If these men were cruel enough to harm a dog, what else were they capable of? I ran back downstairs where Ozgur, his mother, and his sister were watching TV, and I sat at the table behind them and turned on my computer. Just then, we all turned towards the door, from where we heard a single, loud tap on the glass. It was a man. I couldn’t see his face, but I recognized his arm in the tan sweater that I had seen on the Dog Hurter moments before. He talked to Ozgur’s mom for an interminable minute, as my face burned with shame and embarrassment. Ozgur’s mom and sister began laughing, hard. Ozgur, hearing laughter, went over to the door to join them, and he too began chuckling. The man, who turned out to be a gatekeeper here in our complex, however, wasn’t laughing. After another long 30 seconds, he left, and through giggles and gasps for air, Ozgur’s mother explained that the men I had seen in the field were dog trainers.

I was mortified and embarrassed beyond belief. Here I was, a stranger in a strange land, trying to do something on my own and something I felt was right, and I had misunderstood the situation, which, like everything else here, was foreign and different that what I was used to, and in my attempt to try to understand, I had spoken out of turn. What a fool! “You can write about this for your blog!!” his mother exclaimed between bouts of laughter. All I could do was say “No…no…” and I waited for an appropriate two minutes to make it seem like I was cool and unaffected, then I quietly slinked out of the room with carefully monitored steps, my face expressionless and my arms a little too stiff at my sides. When I reached the stairwell, I bounded up the steps, like I had done just an hour before when I thought I was going to rescue an animal in need. I got to my room and after locking the door, I paced nervously back on forth across the flowers embroidered onto the rug on my floor. I felt completely stupid! But the more I thought about it...No! I know what I saw. No matter what anyone says, I know what was going on in that field. No one trains a dog by outnumbering it, provoking it to violence then striking it. Even if this isn’t America, where dogs have spas and boutiques and wardrobes and psychics and bling, what was going on there was cruel, and I was not convinced.

I don’t know quite what made the man come to the house and feel the need to explain himself, but my initial guess was guilt. However, judging by his flat, unamused tone of voice as he stood at the door, even though I couldn’t understand his words, there was a bit of annoyance there, too. Maybe he is just utterly bored, and found a sick way to amuse himself, and I, as a member of the upper class, luxuriously lounging in my bedroom and looking down on him, judging and condoning, took that from him. Ill never know, and although I haven’t heard or seen anything in that field or anywhere else since that incident nearly two weeks ago, I know that there is much more to the story and that it isn’t over just yet.

Disco Inferno

Hey everyone, I've always hated blogs but here I am...I cracked! I want to use this space to share some writing, to reflect on my travels.

A little background information about myself - I'm an avid, although broke, traveler (mounds of school loans but a bad case of wanderlust). I graduated last year from Boston University, with a degree in Anthropology, and I have recently just moved to Istanbul to live for a few months to a year (TBD). I grew up spending summers in a village in Sicily, sleeping in the same bed where my mother was born. I think this gives me a big advantage, because I don't need the comforts of the beaten path and a luxury hotel (not that I have that choice!) when I travel to feel safe and secure, and I know that usually the road less taken by travelers is the most exciting and authentic.

I also love writing, and have been doing so since I was old enough to hold crayon, and Im hardly ever spotted without a book. My other passions in life are fashion, jewelry, movies, shopping, and animals especially my trusty cockapoo Portia.

I want to use this space to publish some of my writing, especially my reflections on my travels and the things I see and do here in Turkey and the world over, as well as include photos of things that inspire me, fashions that I like, etc. And, since I dont yet have a job here in Turkey (and the possibility doesn't look too great) I have plenty of time to update!

Thanks for reading, see you on the flip side,
xoxo
renata

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