Kaya bey (if you dont know Turkish, that’s Mr Kaya) is a well respected and, it must be said, a rather eccentric old gentleman. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, he hails from the small village above Fethiye of the same name, where he’s spent most of his remarkable life.
“In my youth,” he said, “I used to occasionally make a point of accompanying groups of visitors around the village just to make sure that they didn’t get lost. But these days I am not as active as I used be. So, I had to come up with an alternative.”
In a unique interview, this remarkable village elder explained his extraordinary plan: he had found a way of harnessing the energy and ability of the local dog population.
A remarkable experiment
“I spend a lot of time just sitting and watching nowadays,” Kaya Bey explained. “Sometimes I think too. It was on such an occasion that I became aware of and intrigued by the way that the village dogs hung around in the places that tourists like to go. It seemed to me that they were waiting to accompany these visitors wherever they went the village. I began to think some more, about how I could organise the dogs’ enthusiasm and use it as a business opportunity.”
A closet physiologist, Kaya bey decided to put the well-known scientific theory of the 19th century Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov, to the test. In a remarkable experiment he collected together some of the brightest canines in the village and has trained them, using conditioned response, to take individuals or groups to some of the better known sites in the area.
Give a dog a biscuit…
Mr Kaya has always been interested in animal behaviour and it wasn’t long before he hit on the idea of using the famous Pavlovian theory. “Speaking from personal experience you can give a dog a biscuit and it’ll do pretty much anything!” he chortled.
“It doesn’t take much time at all to train these dogs,” Kaya Bey spoke softly, almost like a growl, while he patted one of his favourites, Burcu on her head. “I choose each dog for their character, temperament and fitness. All the dogs around here are very bright and people pleasing. To be honest, they are much easier to work with than some of the local people.”
The dogs already knew their way around the valley and according to Kaya Bey all that was needed to get them to follow a particular route was a few biscuits. The younger ones were easier to train and more likely to obey commands. “I found that biscuits have become increasingly unnecessary; they love their work and are seldom, if ever, distracted. They have an incredibly active sense of duty.”
The dog guides already have their own favoured routes. They will take their group via the old tombs, the Af Kule monastery, the beautiful views and the abandoned village, as well as some places that strangers to the valley would be unlikely to find on their own. Those dogs that enjoy swimming will also have the chance to take the tourists to a local beach. All are trained to walk at the pace of their group, to wait if the walkers need a rest and not to disappear after any interesting smell, or chase after animals.
Businesses happy to cooperate
Local restaurant owners are happy to cooperate with this new enterprise as the treks inevitably end up at one of several barbeque eateries. For the owners there is the opportunity of doing business and for the dogs there is always the hope of a juicy, meaty reward for successfully doing their job.
One of the local restaurant owners is delighted by the idea. He told us: “These dogs are wonderful diplomats for our valley; always happy, obliging and never shirking their responsibility. Their hard work is always rewarded with some of our tasty lamb tandır.”
Waiting for tomorrow
From tomorrow there will be several dog guides on duty in the valley. Each will be proudly wearing a collar with a bandana, a sort of corporate uniform. This will identify them to walkers and local residents alike.
Kaya Bey is smiling; his brown eyes twinkling in the spring sunshine, peeping out from under his silver brow. “I don’t expect this will make me rich but it is a good way to see out my remaining years.” It’s seems strange to his friends and admirers that not everybody can understand his gruff voice but the summer will test this unique and enterprising venture. Meanwhile, he and the lucky dogs sit under a shady tree, dozing in the sunshine and waiting for tomorrow, the first day of April.
*This story was first published in 2011. Mr Kaya died on 13th May 2012 and is now at peace somewhere in Kayaköy