Canine Encounters

The snow is gone, and the sun is shining down on the Bosporus. I was less than motivated to take the dog out on a long walk in yesterday’s slushy rain, so today I muster up the oomph to go for a slow jog with her.

Now, finding places to jog with a dog has been quite challenging. We are smack in the middle of a very urban part of Istanbul’s European side, situated on the top of a hill. Great location for 2-legged creatures. Not so great for those with 4. Before our dog arrived from Russia, I asked the reception where I could take her for a walk. They directed me to Ulus Park.

Ulus Park is about a 10-minute leisurely (I don’t do any other kind) jog from our front door. Off I went in head-to-toe Nike, imagining, as I ran along the busy street packed with honking cars and people, an oasis at the end of the road, a great expanse of green where I could walk our dog, maybe even let her off the leash and throw Frisbees and balls that she could devour (no retriever she; part-Terrier, she pounces, carts off her prey to a private area, and proceeds to rend apart).

So I jogged, dodging cars and people, until I saw to my left a large sign “Ulus Park.” Ahhhh, finally, a place to run with no moving obstacles, with soft ground, maybe even some walking paths. I enter the park. What greeted me? A beautiful view of the Bosporus. A cafe on my left which allows customers to enjoy that view. A great Dali-ish surrealistic rock formation with a giant bowl at its bottom that will be filled with water come warmer months. Then, stairs. Lots of them. 272 to be exact. Beautiful but not exactly what I had hoped for.

View from Ulus Park

Not giving up, in the few days leading up to our dog’s arrival, I explored other areas, trying to find a place to go. In our building I ran into dog owners and asked them about places to walk. They – also relatively new to the area – just shook their heads. Nothing. I started to panic. Both for our dog – who was used to running and doing her ‘thing’ in a large forest with paths, grass, few people and zero vehicles – and myself, who was used to going with her and checking off “exercise” from my “to do” list (as a rule, I hate treadmills).

The dog arrived and, after days of walking her on the narrow, city sidewalks that have seen us hopping on and off them like jack rabbits to avoid fellow pedestrians and oncoming traffic, I am now desperate. I decide to try out the Bosporus. I had previously asked the reception about getting down to the Bosporus sea to walk Zoya there, but they had told me it was much too far away. However, I know that by the sea there is a lovely wide, continuous boardwalk that is perfect for a stroll or run, and, given my desperation, I have to check it out.

We leave our building and take a new side street, our dog throwing me the look that I was becoming all too familiar with – “are you sure about this?” – as we navigate, if possible, even narrower sidewalks. Seeing a sign for “Bebek”, a lovely, upscale waterfront neighborhood, we head in that direction.

Narrow Sidewalks

Fifteen minutes later, jackpot! The water AND a boardwalk wide enough to accommodate 10+ people or dogs shoulder-to-shoulder. We (or I) give a sigh of delight and jog, enjoying the lovely view of the Bosporus, running alongside couples strolling hand-in-hand, fishermen casting their 15-foot rods, moored boats rocking in the gentle waves, and…stray dogs.

Warned about the large population of street dogs in Istanbul, I have prepared myself. I am carrying a stick I found near the apartment (amazing given the lack of green space around us). I am hoping I don’t actually need to use it because our dog, who loves devouring sticks, got her teeth on it a time or two, and, if the crunches I heard were any indication, the stick’s ability to be anything more than a visual aid has been compromised. I am sure it will droop like a noodle if I have to put it to any active use. Instead, I hope just the sight of it will be enough to scare off other dogs. Heart pumping, we continue on.

Encounter #1: German shepherd-looking dog starts to approach us. It looks friendly enough. Tail is wagging. I am not taking chances. I wave the stick, yelling “back” and the dog retreats (granted, other pedestrians eye me in such a way as to indicate they think I am overreacting; on the other hand, they don’t have their precious pup with them or the weight of responsibility that comes with it to ensure that absolutely no harm will come to her…the thought of facing my kids or their doleful eyes if any hair on the dog is harmed is enough to make me want to order doggy armor).

Encounter #2: We pass a small park and enter it, thinking there will be another walkway by the sea that will be fun to explore. We turn a corner and are greeted by the cold, black stares of 2 burly dogs who surely are the combination of all the breeds we are taught to fear and avoid, their spiky, terror-invoking collars not softening their look. They start to bark ferociously. I yank Zoya back and beat a hasty retreat, thankful for the fence I saw that stands between the canines from hell and us and praying fervently that the dogs have no jumping or climbing skills.

Encounter #3: After running a few minutes, I see a nice area for our dog to meander and smell a bit of grass. We walk around and just as we are circling back around to where we had entered the area, a dog – some scruffy, brown thing but BIG – jumps out at us. Luckily, my shriek alone seems to convince it of our submissiveness, so it lets us retreat unharmed.

Feeling a bit on edge, I warily resume jogging with our dog along the water. As soon as I spy 2 more stray dogs up ahead of us, I decide we have had enough canine encounters for the day. I turn back. We reach our road that will take us back to the top of the hill. We head slowly up, walking at this point.

Almost to the top, I am now feeling good about our jaunt. We have found a place to go, and I reflect hopefully on the dog situation, thinking that the stray dog thing will get better if we establish a routine and get familiar with the area and its pack of strays and they with us. Caught up in my visions of future strolls along the sea, I am a bit off guard when a white husky with a collar starts walking up to us. It is wagging its tail and whining, as if pleading ‘please be my friend.’ I feel sorry for it, and our dog seems very eager to check out the Husky. She pulls on the leash. I relinquish and let them meet. They sniff, tails are wagging, all is fine.

And then it isn’t.

The Husky gets spooked and there is a scuffle, growling, and a bark. I pull our dog back. No one is hurt. No bites.

Whew, dodged that bullet. What was I thinking? The dog was whining, for Pete’s sake! Still, not a smart decision. Apparently two women walking past agreed, calling out something to me in Turkish (I am pretty sure they said “stupid foreigner-dog owner”).

Well, this stupid foreigner-dog owner learned her lesson. No more impromptu play dates with street dogs.

Oh. And carry a bigger stick.

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