Traveling with a dog in... Bosnia & Turkey

Charley is a mind-reading dog. There have been many trips in his lifetime, and often he has to be left at home. He knows we are going long before the suitcase has come out, and he paces and worries and whines and goes into a state of mild hysteria.

-John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley


Europe is known as the most dog-friendly continent on the planet, and based on Mango's and my experiences, I wholeheartedly agree.  Traveling with a dog, especially in central Europe, is relatively easy and pups are welcome on public transit and in restaurants.  Flying into Europe with a dog is hassle-free, as long as the dog's paperwork and vaccinations are in order.  Of course, there are exceptions to Europe's dog-friendliness and I consider those countries to be the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, and eastern European countries, although those countries are still fairly dog-friendly.  

Now that our adventures have unexpectedly taken us to the eastern corners of Europe, how did Mango and I fare?  We still managed to have a good time, although our experience was much different than that of central Europe.  Not only is it much more difficult to get around with a dog and no car, but we were confronted with the unfortunate reality of street dogs and psycho feral cats.  Here's our recap of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Turkey.


Bosnia & Herzegovina

Leaving from Dubrovnik, Croatia, Mango and I took a 3-hour taxi to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, because taking the bus with a dog was a gamble (Croatia has no clear dogs-on-the-bus policy, although Mango was always allowed on board the few times I tried).  Outside of the normal rabies, microchip, health certificate, and distemper/hepatitus/parvovirus requirements, there are no special requirements to bring your dog into Bosnia, and border control seemed fine with just looking at Mango's passport.  A titer test may be required when traveling from high-rabies countries to Bosnia.  Like Croatia, Bosnia does not have a clear dogs-on-the-bus policy: Mango was allowed on the bus between Mostar and Sarajevo without an issue (the lady selling tickets said dogs were allowed), but when traveling from Sarajevo to Zagreb, the information counter at the bus station told me to ask the bus driver, who promptly denied Mango passage thus requiring me to pay a $250 fare for a private taxi.  Per my experience with the Sarajevo tram, dogs are not allowed on local public transit in Bosnia.

Beyond public transit, how are dogs treated in Bosnia?  It's not very common to see pet dogs walking with their owners in Bosnia, as many pet dogs stay at home in the yard.  Dogs are not allowed inside restaurants, and even some restaurants with outdoor seating don't allow dogs.  Outdoor cafes are generally dog-friendly.  Interestingly enough, picking up dog poop isn't a thing Bosnians do, which is probably why dogs aren't allowed in most parks.  Bosnia gets a lot of tourists from eastern countries that are notoriously less dog-friendly, such as Pakistan, India, and Saudi Arabia, so little Mango's mere presence would occasionally freak out some people in the tourist areas (very handy for clearing a walking path).  Apart from that, locals were very friendly to Mango, especially in Mostar; the first night I arrived, I left Mango tied up outside a grocery store while I ran inside.  Within a few minutes, a worried young guy came in and asked me if Mango was mine, because he wanted to make sure he wasn't abandoned.  When I returned to Mango, there was a swarm of people loving on him, giving him food and water.  Mango was definitely in heaven and it was hard to pull him away from all the attention.

One thing that is common in Bosnia, unfortunately, are street dogs and cats.  Sarajevo in particular has a lot of street dogs, and they are usually large, gentle, friendly, and healthy-looking albeit a bit dirty.  Locals told me that the dogs are picked up by animal control, given vaccinations, are spayed/neutered, given an ear tag for tracking, and returned to the street, so at least there's that.  In the winter, I don't exactly know what the dogs do although locals feed them and may take them in temporarily.  While it's difficult to see any living being homeless on the street, I didn't see any particularly skinny or abused street dogs in Bosnia, although surely they exist.  As for the cats in Bosnia, they are Crazy with a capital C.  On our last morning in town, Mango and I were walking through the crowded Baščaršija before heading to the airport, and I suddenly saw people shuffling and heard a cat screeching ahead.  Before I knew it, the cat was attacking Mango, who was doing his best to get away from the deranged cat.  Poor Mango was cornered and whining on the crowded walkway and I finally managed to scoop him up and run away from the cat, but he did get a few scratches on his face.  We stopped at the vet on the way to the airport, and they said he'd be fine.  Phew, because I wasn't looking forward to explaining a bloody, rabid dog to airport customs.




Flying into Turkey was a breeze and there were no issues getting out of customs.  Requirements for bringing a dog into the country are the standard rabies, microchip, health certificate, and distemper/hepatitus/parvovirus ones.  This website said a titer test may be required to avoid a 3-month quarantine, but that never came up at the airport.  Dogs are not allowed on local trams or buses in Turkey, although taxi drivers seem okay with dogs.  Looking into Turkey's rail system, it seems that dogs are allowed on board if they sit in the owner's lap, but I never ended up taking the train to confirm.  Not being able to travel freely with a dog throughout the country, which is quite large, is frustrating and makes traveling with a dog a costly hassle that I don't recommend.  I was told by an airline that dogs flying domestically must be sedated while in cargo, which I'm strongly against for safety (and other) reasons.  Dogs are unfortunately not allowed in restaurants or cafes.  

Like Bosnia, Turkey also has a large population of street dogs with this informative article claiming up to 150,000 stray dogs in Istanbul alone.  (Also like Bosnia, dog walkers don't pick up after dogs.)  All of the street dogs I saw seemed pretty healthy and content, sunning themselves in the plush grass or gnawing on a huge bone from the butcher shop.  Staunchly against euthanasia, Turkish people are very compassionate towards street dogs and cats and leave bowls of fresh water and food out in doorways.  Dogs roam the streets and rest wherever they want with little interference; many times I saw dogs at outdoor tourist attractions, making me wonder if they had to buy a ticket to get in or if the guard turned a blind eye as they passed through the turnstile.  As for my little street dog, Mango, man were Turkish people nice to him.  We couldn't walk two feet without someone stopping us to pet him or feed him.  A few people we met literally gave Mango the entire meal they were eating without thinking twice, it was incredible.

After eleven days in Istanbul, I was ready to explore other parts of the country but had Mango to consider.  Turkey is huge and I didn't want to deal with the complications and stress of renting a car, so I asked a few tour companies about traveling with Mango.  That was quite the unusual, complicated request, and it would have meant hiring an expensive private driver for most of the trip.  One tour operator, Paran Turkey Travel, solved the issue by generously offering to keep Mango in Istanbul while I took the trip.  I was a little wary of leaving behind my loyal travel companion, but I knew that it was the best solution so I took the guy up on his offer.  For nine days I traveled around Turkey while Mango hung out with new friends in Istanbul (I appreciated the daily updates).  When the trip was up, our friends in Istanbul sent Mango to the airport to meet me so we could regroup and fly further east, to Thailand.

Travel warning: Turkey is considered to be high-risk rabies country, meaning that traveling to certain countries afterwards may require a titer test which involves a 3-month waiting period.  I didn't travel to one of these countries after Turkey so I don't speak from experience, it's just something I noticed.