From Strays To Stars: Street Animals That Found Fame In MENA

‘We started from the bottom and now we’re here’ is maybe what galactic comrade and Soviet space dog Laika thought on November 3, 1957, as she became the first dog to go to space just a few months after having been a street dog on the streets of Moscow. The Middle East is no stranger to stray animals finding fame and cats, dogs, and other animals often make the news by capturing our hearts or making us laugh. The region is deeply attached to stray animals, leading to cities like Istanbul even being nicknamed Catstantinople and social media in the region ready to jump on the next stray animal finding fame.

The Adventurous Boji

Via Dog Time

In Istanbul, there’s a dog that has become to be known as Boji who is famous for travelling around Istanbul on his own on public transport almost daily. Be it the metro, bus, ferry, or tram, Boji became a common and welcome sight to commuters who were intrigued by this curious and friendly dog who seemed to be exploring the city. The local authorities got him vaccinated and put a tracker on him to see what he gets up to. Amazingly, they found Boji travelled sometimes up to 30 kilometers in any single day. People searched specifically for Boji and grabbing a selfie with him was on the checklist of many in Istanbul. In a surprise twist to the story, a Twitter campaign was launched blaming Boji for pooing on the tram with a photograph of the dirtied seat. However, local government officials tracked down the security footage from the tram and found out that the dog excrement was deliberately placed by a person out of a plastic bag in a deliberate attempt to frame Boji. Knowing Boji is a good boy, thousands came to his defence, but the local transport authority were increasingly worried about people potentially targeting Boji, so they organised for his adoption in a more stable home with well-known billionaire Omer Koc. Talk about rags to riches.

Gate-Crashing Cat at the Cairo International Film Festival

In November 2020, start from the region dressed up and headed to the Cairo Opera House for the glitzy opening night of the Cairo International Film Festival. However, a friendly and playful stray cat in the garden of the opera obviously didn’t get the memo it was an invite-only and strictly A-lister event. The confident stray cat strutted up and down the red carpet (or catwalk if you will) taking pictures with celebrities and rolling over to get her belly rubbed from the region’s most famous actors and actresses. The cat quickly become known as ‘festival cat’ on social media and captured the hearts of many around Egypt and the wider world. Sadly, however, stray cats living at the Cairo Opera House were unfortunately poisoned a few months later and ‘festival cat’ was among them. This caused outrage and sadness for many and reinvigorated debate about how best to deal with stray animals in the country, even leading to the Ministry of Culture launching an investigation into the matter.

The Stray Dog in Turkey that Went to the Opera

Who said that dogs only enjoy food and chasing after sticks? A stray dog in Turkey decided to go up on stage and join the Vienna Chamber Orchestra. Pondering over, having a sniff around, and then lying down next to the musicians, the stray dog immediately pulled at the heart strings of the attendees and laughter can be heard coming from the crowd. The video of the dog joining in with the opera went viral across the world and was another reminder of the kind and calm nature of Turkish strays.

The Famous Cats of the American University of Beirut

In the centre of Beirut around the green and lush campus of the American University of Beirut, the amount of cats is quite overwhelming. Thirty years ago, as many fled the city amidst the chaos of the Lebanese Civil War, they were forced to abandon their cats and chose the grounds of the American University of Beirut as the safest place to leave them. This colony of cats has now grown to a huge amount of furry friends, which the university helps feed, while also controlling their numbers through neutering and other humane methods. Although a sad reminder of the tragedy of the Lebanese Civil War, the cats of the University of Beirut are also a point of pride in terms of the progressive approach to stray cats.

Poor Little Biso

A small stray cat who began to known as Biso somehow became trapped behind the wall at Cairo’s Mohamed Naguib Metro station during construction work when he was a kitten. Poor Biso was stuck behind the wall for years, while commuters for years tried to persuade the relevant authorities to take down the wall to free the cat. In particular, a man known as Uncle Abdo, who owned a shop nearby, was famed for his extreme kindness and dedication to feeding the cat daily through a small hole in the wall. The authorities tried several times but struggled to remove the cat without causing serious repair work in the Metro. However, after an image of his tale poking out of the hole in the wall aroused the concern and sympathy of Egyptians across the country, the relevant authorities were pressured into knocking down a part of the wall to free the cat and Biso finally found freedom.

The Feline Guardian of the Hagia Sophia

The grand Hagia Sophia is one of the world’s most impressive and beautiful buildings. To protect the building, many security guards and wardens are hired to look after this irreplaceable monument. However, the Hagia Sophia, also had a feline guard called Gli. The famous cat was known to all residents of the city and it was usual to see people searching for him for a selfie in the mosque. Gli also met and was given a stroke by US President Barack Obama in 2009 on his visit to the country. After Gli’s death in 2020, social media in Turkey was awash with tributes to this furry little boy.

Chilling with Tombili

Tombili was a humble and very well-fed street cat from the streets of Istanbul who became world famous because of a photograph of her lounging on the pavement in her fluffy roundness and splendour. People from across the city reportedly took day trips just to meet the famous cat and Tombili captured the hearts of the Turkish people so much that after her death in 2016, the city was left in mourning. After 17,000 people demanded that the city honour the life and roundness of Tombili, the local mayor commissioned a sculpture to celebrate her life. The statue, designed by local sculptor Seval Sahin, shows Tombili reclining in all her world-famous splendour. Amazingly, hundreds of people attended the opening of the memorial, the deputy mayor gave a speech, and Turkish TV even carried the event on the air. For a short period, the sculpture went missing, which led Turkish MP Tuncay Ozkan to to declare in a war-like stance that “They stole the Tombili statue. They are enemies of everything beautiful. All they know is hate, tears and war”. It seemed his angry words, however, worked and the statue was soon returned and Tombili lounges proudly to this day.

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