‘Bark Map’ social media app causes outcry in Turkey after spike in number of poisoned street dogs

‘Bark Map’ social media app causes outcry in Turkey after spike in number of poisoned street dogs
Activists in Turkey say dogs are being hunted with the Havita app. Pictured is Kusadasi on Turkey's Aegean coast. / Zeynel Cebeci, cc-by-sa 4.0.
By bne IntelIiNews August 24, 2022

Havrita (“Bark Map”), a Turkish social media app that targets stray dogs by providing users with a mapping/location service, has come under fire after a spike in the number of poisoned street dogs.

Launched in May 2022, Havrita allows the app user to share a picture of a dog and its location across all 81 provinces of Turkey. This appears to have led to the surge in the number of cases of poisoned dogs. Head of the Animal Rights Commission of the Istanbul Bar Association, Gulsaniye Ekmekci, told Gazete Duvar how in the southern Antalya province, around eight to 10 dogs were found dead around the same locations indicated on Havrita. 

Amid a growing outcry, social media users in Turkey have started a hashtag (#HavritaKapatilsin (“Shut down Havrita”)) to call for the shutting down of Havrita. Protesters have taken aim at the platform's spokesperson, lawyer Devrim Kocak. However, in a tweet, Kocak suggested those wanting the platform taken offline were misguided. 

According to the pro-government Sabah newspaper, “the platform is the work of a group of activists who founded it after a high school student was killed after he was mauled by 25 stray dogs in the central province of Kayseri in 2019.”

In another tweet, Kocak described the app as a “user-friendly social media application” that should be protected under Article 56 of the Constitution. The article protects people's right to live in a healthy and stable environment.

GlobalVoices noted that the Havrita website  is full of photographs of stray dogs with locations. Havrita's founders, the media outlet reported, claimed it was not for targeting but for identifying locations, while adding that Havrita bears no responsibility for what happens to the dogs once their location is pinned on the map.

Guliz Gunduz, who works to help stray animals, raised concern about Havrita's past in an interview with online news platform Bianet. Havrita’s founders, he said, were involved in a public campaign several years ago that targeted street cats. The campaign went by the name of Anadolu Kedisi (“Anatolian Cat”).

“Then they went after dogs, and we, animal rights defenders and organisations, responded seriously. They stopped for a while, until approximately a year ago, the same people founded a website called Basibos Kopek Sorunu [‘The problem of the stray dog’]” said Gunduz was quoted as saying in the interview. In response, he added, people started feeling uneasy when passing stray dogs. “Even though, street animals are afraid [of] us anyway. They face violence and abuse anyway. Instead of punishing the culprits, we are now seeing that the stray dogs are held accountable,” he said.

On August 22, after orders from the Ankara Criminal Judgeship of Peace no. 1, access to the Havrita app and website were blocked. On the same day, Kocak said the application would be paused due to the public backlash.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously described shelters available for stray dogs as clean and safe environments. But critics claim there are very few shelters in Turkey that provide adequate services to stray dogs.

In an interview with The IndependentMine Vural, an animal rights activist and veterinary technician in Istanbul, said: “in general in Turkey, shelters are trauma and death camps for animals.”