The adventures of Boji, Istanbul’s traveling dog
Photographs by Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Story by Kyle Almond, CNN
Published October 29, 2021
A street dog named Boji has become something of a celebrity in Istanbul, where he travels around the city on its ferries, trams and subway cars.
His adventures came to light a couple of months ago, and municipal officials began to track his movements. They were amazed at his resourcefulness.
“He knows where to go. He knows where to get out,” said Avlin Erol, the head of customer relations at Metro Istanbul.
Boji is estimated to travel up to 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) a day, passing through dozens of Metro stations and taking at least two ferry rides.
“He’s such a free spirit,” said Chris McGrath, a Getty Images photographer who recently spent a day following Boji around the city. “All he wants to do is ride on transportation. Every time he goes past a bus or van or any form of transport, he just wants to get on it. It’s really quite bizarre.”
McGrath first learned about Boji on Twitter, where people post their pictures and selfies with the mixed-breed dog. Now the dog even has his own Twitter and Instagram accounts with tens of thousands of followers.
“Everybody knows him now and everybody’s seen him,” McGrath said.
For many, the dog has become a beloved member of the community.
“He went into one restaurant and two men sort of shooed him away, yelled at him,” McGrath said. “And then you hear someone else, another restaurant owner, yelling at those guys going: ‘It’s Boji! It’s Boji! Don’t shoo him away!’ So he’s definitely got celebrity status now.”
Municipal workers are also protective of Boji, and they have been looking after him. Earlier this month, they brought him in for some grooming and a medical checkup. They also did a behavioral study to make sure he was OK and that all the human interaction isn’t a problem for him or those around him.
“They took him to a training camp sort of thing and gave him some some TLC, some grooming, some shots,” McGrath said. “They watched him interact, fixed his tracking collar, and that took about a week.”
The municipality also created a little kennel for him at one of their Metro stations, and they feed him whenever he wants to come back.
But Boji prefers to roam.
Municipal workers keep tabs on Boji from afar, using a mobile app to track his movements. McGrath linked up with them last week for his day following Boji.
“He knows exactly where the doors are for the trains,” McGrath marveled. “He’ll stand on the side of the platform, and as soon as he hears the vibration of the train coming, he goes to the very end of the platform and then basically chases the train back and waits by the door. He knows exactly where the doors are. He’s quite pushy actually; people are trying to get off, he tries to get on.”
When Boji gets on a ferry, he knows exactly where to go: the side with the sun.
“He loves the water,” McGrath said. “When the ferry starts going, he starts barking at their waves.”
McGrath laughed as he recalled the dog choosing between two ferries.
“He checked one, and people were getting on. I don’t know how he knows, but that one was going to Eminönü. And the other one was going to Beşiktaş. So he checked the Eminönü one and went no, that’s not the right one. And then he ducked under the turnstiles and went on to the Beşiktaş one. I don’t know how he knows, but he seems to like riding the Beşiktaş ferry.”
McGrath was told that Boji also enjoys the engines of the various vehicles.
“At the ferry, he’ll sit at the back where the engine is because the vibration, he likes it,” McGrath said. “And then when he’s on the Metro, on the subway train, he sits where the wheels are — like right underneath on top of the wheels. He always likes this feeling of sitting on those.”
It’s this area of the subway train that Boji gets his name. It’s known as the bogie area, in railway terminology, and bogie translates to boji in Turkish.
If there’s anything Boji doesn’t like, it’s cats. And he comes across many stray cats during his travels.
“Istanbul is called Catstanbul because there’s so many cats here,” said McGrath, who’s been based in the city for six years now. “(Boji) sees a cat in the distance, and he just chases it up. I saw him do it three or four times, chase them up trees and stuff. He really dislikes cats.
“But apart from that, he’s totally a perfect dog. Just wanders around. Everybody pats him. He’s super happy.”
Because there are so many stray animals in Istanbul, it isn’t hard for Boji to find food.
“There’ll be water and a food bowl out for animals hidden away in the corners of restaurants or houses,” McGrath said. “So (Boji) knows where to go.
“He was on the way to the ferry, and there’s a taxi stand and there was a little house for a cat and some bowls and he stops there and drinks. And there’s a picture of him in the subway drinking, and that’s like a municipality’s food-and-drink area for animals. He knew exactly to go there.”
McGrath said the municipality will soon be putting up some information posters about Boji on the transit system, giving people some guidance about how to interact with him.
Just don’t expect the dog to take directions.
“He doesn’t listen to anybody,” McGrath said. “Like if you do try to tell him something, he just ignores you basically. Lots of people say, ‘Oh, come over here, sit here,’ and he just ignores it, he goes where he wants to go.
“He’s really that sort of spirit. He just wants to go and do his own thing and travel around, and he’s quite content doing it.”