Veterinarians save thousands of animals injured in Turkey’s huge earthquakes

Veterinarians save thousands of animals injured in Turkey’s huge earthquakes
After the earthquake in Hatay, Turkey, a 30-yard-deep rift was formed along the fault. Olive groves were split in two.

More than 40,000 people died in the massive earthquakes in southeastern Turkey. So did countless thousands of household pets and livestock. Veterinarians are working around the clock to save thousands of injured animals. Veterinarians on the the other side of Turkey, hundreds of miles away, drove or flew to the country’s devastated southeast to help out.

“There are lots of animals stuck inside rubble, many have been trapped for a long time,” said veterinarian Zinnet Patan, while working at a field hospital. “They get dehydrated and they have broken bones and wounds. The equipment is really limited here, so we only do first aid. Local vets are also the survivors of the earthquake and are often not able to help, so we are trying to help all kinds of animals.” Patan is from Istanbul, 700 miles northwest of the region devastated by the earthquake.

In a tent a mile from the center of Turkey’s most devastated big city, Antakya, Patan treats around 100 animals a day. She administers vaccinations, stitches wounds, and helps animals give birth and care for their sickly young. Birds chirped from nearby cages inside her small tent. “People in this area really love pigeons – we once had 40 pigeons come in at once,” she said.

In her makeshift field hospital for animals, a cat meowed as he was laid on a table, examined, and injected with painkillers and antibiotics. The British Shorthair had been stuck in an apartment following two huge earthquakes that ravaged the area two weeks ago. After 12 days, he finally jumped to the ground several floors below, where somebody found him injured.

The cat could not use his back legs and was suffering from suspected hypothermia, so he was transferred to an incubator to warm up, where he meowed plaintively in protest from behind the glass. Once warm, he would probably have to be sent to a clinic outside the disaster zone where X-rays could be done on his legs and spine.

The historic city of Antakya in southeast Turkey was devastated by the magnitude 7.8 and 7.6 earthquakes. About 40% of the buildings in surrounding Hatay province have collapsed, while more than a quarter as seriously damaged. As homes collapsed, household pets died and were injured along with their owners.

Haytap, an animal welfare organization that works in earthquake zones and areas hit by wildfires, is coordinating aid efforts and volunteers, who come from across Turkey and Europe. It set up the animal hospital on the first day of the disaster.

Patan had been volunteering at the hospital for four days. She will be replaced by another vet and go home on February 20. A steady stream of injured animals continues unabated.

“I work almost 24 hours” a day, she said, with a laugh. “I get woken up a lot during the night.”

Mehmet Gürkan Tığoğlu, who leads the rescue team, said Haytap volunteers are also working in three other earthquake-hit cities in southeastern Turkey – Kahramanmaraş, Malatya, and Osmaniye. “In Hatay alone, we have rescued more than 1,000 animals. It’s a huge number and a big responsibility. We are working constantly. It’s not an easy job. We enter really dangerous, collapsed buildings – it’s a risk to our lives. We are really tired, but when we rescue the animals, it gives us so much joy.”

Animals do extreme things to survive, including eating their own faeces, and when they are rescued, they are often agitated, and don’t understand that rescuers are their to help.

“The animals are very stressed, they scratch, they bite – but it’s normal, they are protecting themselves and they are traumatised by the earthquake,” he said.

Michael Sehr, who is part a police animal rescue team in Germany, arrived in Antakya on Tuesday with a crew of seven to help. “We rescue animals big and small. Yesterday we went to a village and rescued a cow that had been trapped for 12 days.”

Ömer Semih Çelik, a 30-year-old from the city of Bursa in Turkey’s northwest, helps coordinate the field hospital. He says owners of many of the animals being treated died in the earthquake or lost everything and could no longer care for them. Animals can be permanently housed at a farm run by Haytap in Bursa, or they can stay there until they are re-homed.

“We got used to [rescuing animals] in other situations, but in Hatay, the situation is really tough right now so we’re getting emotional more easily,” he said. “We feed our souls by rescuing animals – it makes us really motivated.”

He said the field hospital in Antakya most urgently needed food.

“We especially need bird seed – most people donate food for cats and dogs. And we need to carry boxes and crates, in every size – because we treat everything from mice to huge dogs,” he said, pointing to an enormous black mastiff, whose owner could no longer look after him. “We just rescued some koi carp. A goose just came in.”

Rabia Öztürk, field coordinator for the animal welfare group Mutlu Patiler (Happy Paws), said her team was closely working with other groups to rescue animals, transport supplies, and sterilize street dogs. Her team had taken hundreds of calls seeking help since the earthquakes. “We set up a warehouse close to the earthquake zone, and in every affected location, we go there or make connections and bring them what they need,” she said.

She recounted stories with happy endings, such as the story of a golden retriever who was found in the southeastern city of Kahramanmaraş. The dog had been microchipped, and when they contacted its owner, they learned that the dog had been stolen from him a few months ago and apparently escaped after the earthquake and found its way back to his ruined house.

“We made an online meeting – both of them cried, the owner and the dog. They were reunited after that.”

For the vet Patan, some stories are burnt into her memory. She treated a 12-year-old Belgian shepherd that had worked with a search-and-rescue team from the Netherlands and suffered bleeding on the brain while combing collapsed buildings for survivors.

“It happened while on duty, and two days later, he died. The owner had to go home without him,” she said.

A woman brings a dog with breathing problems to the field hospital every day to receive treatment, because the dog is the only thing tangible the owner has left.

“We got closer and became friends – she told me she lost her husband in the earthquake. She is always hugging the dog.”

LU Staff

LU Staff

Promoting and defending liberty, as defined by the nation’s founders, requires both facts and philosophical thought, transcending all elements of our culture, from partisan politics to social issues, the workings of government, and entertainment and off-duty interests. Liberty Unyielding is committed to bringing together voices that will fuel the flame of liberty, with a dialogue that is lively and informative.


For your convenience, you may leave commments below using Disqus. If Disqus is not appearing for you, please disable AdBlock to leave a comment.