Cats benefit from their association with Islam in Turkey, where the population is mostly Muslim though the laws and political system are secular.
Islamic lore tells of a cat thwarting a poisonous snake that had approached the Prophet Muhammad. In another tale, the prophet found his cat sleeping on the edge of his vest.
When President Obama visited Turkey last year, he paused to stroke a tabby cat at the former Byzantine church of Haghia Sophia while Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan looked on with a smile. The cat, one of half a dozen living at the ancient site, seemed unfazed by the VIP attention.
The special status of stray cats in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey reflects a tradition-bound country on the path to modernity. It partly derives from Muslim ideas about tolerance, and an urban elite with Western-style ideas about animal rights.
Turkey introduced an animal protection law in 2004, and state policy is to catch, neuter and release or find a home for street animals.
Alleged poisoning campaigns by some municipalities, usually targeting dogs, suggest laws are sometimes flouted altogether.