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Turkish govt mulls new steps for animal shelters amid debate 

violent attack by staff at an animal shelter in central Türkiye on a dog has reignited the debate about the fate of stray animals. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan instructed the government to take new steps to find a permanent solution to the issue following the incident last month that ended with staff from the shelter being detained.

Though the public appears divided on the issue, with one side advocating for stronger measures and others calling for a comprehensive solution that does not harm animals, shelters remain the most viable option for now.

The government has set up a new committee comprised of staff from several ministries, including the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Ministry of Environment, Urban Planning and Climate Change, the Interior Ministry, the Ministry of Justice and the Health Ministry. Lawmakers and representatives of a union of municipalities have also been included. The committee’s first meeting focused on new sanctions for municipalities that abstained from setting up shelters for stray animals.

The committee will determine a new road map on the issue, including more regulations for inspections of animal shelters. It also concentrates on attacks by stray animals on people. The committee also discussed the allocation of more funds for the sterilization of animals.

Parliament last year approved a much-anticipated animal rights bill that the government plans to add more regulations to in an effort to tackle the issues faced by some 4 million stray animals. The bill was hailed as a landmark step, further criminalizing acts of violence towards animals, which have long been interpreted controversially as “commodities” or “property” under Turkish laws. It was overwhelmingly approved by Parliament, in a rare move that united the government and the opposition. New regulations are also expected to be unanimously approved by all parties. The government also plans to include scientists, vets and animal rights activists in discussions about the new road map.

Under new steps, the government plans to allocate a new budget to municipalities solely to tackle the issue, with the funds going toward sterilizations and shelters. Municipalities will face fines and other measures if they do not implement the new regulations.

Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Vahit Kirişçi recently announced that his ministry would grant places in forested areas it oversees to municipalities to construct shelters, noting that the municipality of the Beykoz district in Istanbul was granted an area to do so in a first. Addressing a congress of vets last month, the minister said they already earmarked a budget for municipalities for animal shelters and since 2009, they supplied $3.8 million (TL 72 million) to 88 local administrations in 59 provinces. Kirişçi also said that they provided financial support to relevant institutions for the sterilization of more than 510,000 animals. He added that they would provide about TL 100 million for sterilization campaigns across the country.