Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, is home to millions of people and thousands of stray cats. The feline residents are a common sight in the streets, parks, and cafes of the metropolis, where they are often fed and cared for by the locals. Some of them even have their own Instagram accounts, such as Tombili, a chubby cat who became famous for his relaxed pose on a sidewalk.
But not all cats in Istanbul have a comfortable life. Many of them struggle to find shelter, food, and water, especially in the harsh winter months. Some of them face abuse, neglect, or disease. That’s why a group of interior designers decided to use their skills and creativity to build cozy houses for the stray cats of Istanbul.
A project that started in 2008
The project was initiated by Didem Gokgoz, an interior architect who regularly passed through a park on her way to work in the district of Sisli. She noticed that there were always stray cats trying to find places to keep warm in winter, so she placed some plastic boxes for them to shelter in. However, the boxes were removed by the authorities because they were seen as an eyesore.
Gokgoz then came up with a better idea: to design and build more refined and pleasant shelters that would blend in with the environment and be accepted by the public. She invited the mayor of Sisli, Mustafa Sarigul, to a meeting and showed him her designs. Sarigul was impressed and gave her the green light to install two houses in Mistik Park, with the condition that they would be anchored to the ground with chains.
The houses were whimsical and colorful, featuring windows, doors, roofs, and cushions. They attracted the attention of the media and the public, and soon Gokgoz was flooded with requests to build more houses in other locations. She formed a nonprofit organization called Podo, which stands for “Paws of Design”, and recruited other interior designers and volunteers to join her cause.
A network of cat houses across the city
Today, there are hundreds of cat houses across Istanbul, in parks, universities, cafes, and even banks. Each house is unique and reflects the personality and preferences of the designer and the cats. Some of them are inspired by traditional Turkish architecture, such as the Blue Mosque or the Grand Bazaar. Some of them are modern and minimalist, such as the Cube, a modular system that can be arranged in different shapes and sizes. Some of them are playful and quirky, such as the Catbus, a replica of the vehicle from the animated film My Neighbor Totoro.
The cat houses are not only shelters, but also places where the cats can find food, water, toys, and sometimes even a new owner. The houses are maintained by Podo and the local communities, who donate materials, money, and time to keep them clean and stocked. The houses also serve as a way to raise awareness and educate the public about the importance of spaying and neutering the stray cats, as well as respecting and protecting them.
A model for other cities
The cat houses project has been praised by animal lovers and activists, who see it as a model for other cities that have large populations of stray cats. Gokgoz hopes that her initiative will inspire more people to take action and help the cats in their own ways.
“Our main goal is to make people realize that cats are living beings that have the right to exist in the city,” she said. “They are not pests or problems, but part of our culture and history. They deserve our love and compassion.”