My cleaning lady recoiled in horror when our new little puppy greeted her with endearing enthousiasm. In my Dutch society a dog becomes part of the family, but her Muslim religion tells her that dogs are dirty animals.
The dog’s mouth is considered to be particularly unclean, so she also refused to touch its bowls. This belief is said to have its origin in the times when the Jews were still in Egypt. It was apparently custom to throw the bodies of dead people out over the city walls where wild dogs would tear them apart and eat them. Not a pleasant sight, I assume.
The Koran, in fact, is in two minds about dogs. On the one hand it sustains this ancient Jewish horror of canines, on the other hand Prophet Mohammed had a dog of which he was very fond. The cleaning lady warmed up at her third encounter. When our puppy was again turning crazy circles around her, she exclaimed: “yes, I like you too, but I’m not allowed to touch you!”
So it was with apprehension that I took our little Sophie along to have a coffee with a friend in one of the fancy café’s in downtown Istanbul. Before I entered I put her in a carry bag. She loves that, and fell straight asleep. The “oohs” and “aahs” of two waiters alerted me after half an hour that she had woken up. They begged me to let them stroke her, and play with her, which of course I did. Relaxed, I ordered another coffee and continued chatting.
Just as I took my first sip, one of the waiters came again. “Couldn’t we tie the dog up outside?” he asked. “Actually it’s forbidden to have dogs inside.” Annoyed, I asked him why, since that was the case, he’d let me order more coffee. He bent his head and explained that some customers had just complained, but I could finish my coffee if I wanted. The lady at the till gave the dog a good cuddle before she let us go.
When I went to a take-away to get some food for me and my husband I expected to have to remain outside while waiting for my order to be cooked. But the owner ushered me and my little dog inside. Within a
minute Sophie was surrounded by cooing men, all looking down at her with giddy smiles on their faces.
“What an intelligent dog,” the owner marveled.
“A lot cleverer than Murat,” the man behind the grill joked, whereupon the owner summoned the waiter in question to come and admire his rival.
I walked away, all smiles, but then, as we turned the corner of the street, I heard a howl behind me. “Wait!”
Oh, no, I thought, did she pee inside after all?
“Sophie! Wait!” In his white apron a waiter came skidding around the corner, his hands stretched out. “Sophie! Please!” he screamed. He held a piece of unleavened bread in front of him, in the middle of which
lay a few morsels of grilled liver. “This is for you, Sophie,” he panted with an apologetic smile to me.
Grinning, I walked home. The instinct to look after animals is strong. Indeed, in Turkey, many neighborhoods have their own pack of street dogs, which are fed by the local people and inoculated by the municipality. We just can’t help loving man’s best friend, it seems, whatever religious conventions decree.
And Sophie? Well, she loved the liver and declined all other food for three days. And she still turns crazy circles around every waiter she sees.