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Mohammad Kachooee

May 11, 2023  .  6 min read  .  695

Showing Up for Our Furry Neighbors! Interview With Salma Bahloul, Our Animal Welfare Project Manager

Major Event

Here at the Istanbul&I Newsletter, we like to highlight our projects and the improvements of the NGO as a whole. For this interview, we got to chat with Salma Bahloul, our Animal Welfare project manager, and got to learn more about her background, why the project is important, and so many other things. 

How would you introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Salma Bahloul. I am Moroccan, and I study MIS at Medipol University. I’ve been living in Istanbul since 2018 and I joined Istanbul&I in October 2021. I joined because of the animal shelter and the Animal Welfare project, which I am managing now. I was seeing pictures of volunteers on Instagram and I always wanted to join them.  So, about me, I am a big empath, especially towards animals. I gain a lot of fulfillment and happiness from helping animals and changing their lives. That’s why I actually chose this position. 

How has your experience been since you started as Animal Welfare manager?

I had some ideas. We tried to implement some new stuff and I think it has improved because now more volunteers are joining. People are more comfortable around dogs. We've had some volunteers who've had a fear of being around a dog and later they got over that. I think it's just been helpful so far. 

What does the project entail so far?

In the project, we can actually host more animal-related events but so far we only have Yedikule Animal Shelter. It's a shelter located next to Kazlıçeşme Marmaray, where we go once a week either on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays depending on the volunteers' availability. We have a group for that. We go in the mornings and help the staff with anything they need. It could be cleaning the dog plates, cleaning some areas, making the food, changing water, or any task that it could be. We also try to spare some time to play with and pet the dogs because most of them are abused or abandoned. That's how it's conducted, mostly.

How do you feel about the state of stray animals in Turkey?

Generally speaking, it could be better but, if we compare Turkey to other countries, I think Turkey is doing great. At least we can see some stray animals living their life here. People are able to coexist with dogs. Of course, the shelters are packed with abandoned dogs, which is bad, but people are kind to them. Shelters should only have abused or sick dogs. So, maybe people should stop abandoning dogs like that. But for stray dogs specifically, I think they're doing fine. If people keep accepting them, it's good.

What’s on the horizon for your Animal Welfare project?

We would love to start going to more shelters. Not just Yedikule, because I think we have the potential to be very helpful in other areas too. We have dedicated volunteers who are ready to go every week and work hard at the shelter. So, we would like to start going to more shelters as well. I've been working on that but it's a bit hard to convince the staff that "a group of volunteers will come", so I've been trying to contact some other shelters. Hopefully, we can find another match soon. In terms of other bigger projects, now I am working under the team of Darya Stashua, who is the VPC (Volunteer Projects Coordinator). We have some common ideas and some big projects in mind. In winter, for example, we can maybe make houses for stray animals or host animal-related talks. We have some projects like that on the horizon.

Do you have any practical advice for everyday people, in regards to stray animals?

I think everyday people don't have to love animals because that would be too much to ask for, but I think people can learn to coexist with them. Just accept them as other creatures living with you on this planet. Maybe, consider that dogs have boundaries and body language too, which we should respect. If a dog doesn't want you to approach him, he will show it in some way. You should learn that body language, those signs so that you don't end up being bitten or something. Some dogs may attack you out of nowhere, but humans do that too. And we don't say “all humans are bad”. Therefore, you should not have that judgment that "all dogs are bad" and just try to respect their boundaries and be nice to them. That's all.

What’s been the highlight of joining Istanbul&I as a volunteer?

The best thing in Istanbul&I is the people you meet. Ever since I started, I’ve been meeting people, you always meet new people and it never stops. Every time there is a new orientation and there are new people from different backgrounds. And it’s always nice to meet them. For example, I have made friends from different countries and it also helped me change into a different person. It made me more open and more accepting. Once you get a new position, I think it allows you to gain a lot of skills. For example, my position is management. Even though it’s a mini/micro-manager position, I think it has helped me become a better manager. Management is a part of my major and my experience with Istanbul&I introduced me to a part of that. I get to do what I want, which is to work around dogs and play with them while meeting new people. It is a whole package, a whole good thing. That’s how Istanbul&I has affected my life. It’s been great so far.

Any last words for our readers?

I would say never underestimate any small act, like any volunteering task. Even though they’re small, and I’m speaking of volunteers here, even if it is a bit hard to wake up in the morning and join any event, it always plays a big role. You change either a person’s life or an animal’s life in my case. So please keep volunteering and keep being a good person. As I said, try to coexist with animals in general and try to be kind to them as well. Because they’re super vulnerable and they’re precious loving creatures that need love as well.