When Oyku Buyukdere isn’t dispensing advice as a positive psychology life coach, she’s busy fostering and rehabilitating “problematic” rescue dogs, volunteering for charity/shelter Haydos, running awareness campaigns to improve animal laws in her country on behalf of Haytap (the Turkish animal rights federation) and curating her popular YouTube channels. Such a hectic schedule hasn’t affected her sense of humor: “I work eight hours a day to earn money so I can put in another eight hours spending that money on rescue efforts.” This energetic vegan credits positive psychology for her sustained happiness and sanity while advocating for animals in a country where dogs are often beaten, shot or even raped. And if that’s not enough, there are security concerns: Since July 2015, terrorist acts have killed hundreds of civilians. In fact, when the March 19 bombings occurred in Istanbul, Oyku was a few blocks away, attending a Haytap conference with fellow members representing animal rights NGOs from all over Turkey.
Transition to a cruelty-free lifestyle
Oyku became vegetarian in 2011 and vegan in 2014. Before that, she’d spent half a decade rescuing companion animals while eating farmed animals. Like many pet lovers, she hadn’t yet linked the two ideas. Also, her doctor wanted her to eat meat as a remedy for chronic iron-deficiency anemia.
Today Oyku is vegan and—iron-ically—her health has improved. “My anemia is gone since I’ve become vegan! I think it’s all the green juices I’ve incorporated in my diet.” Plus Oyku has abundant energy for working on behalf of both companion and farm animals. It makes little sense, she says, loving and protecting dogs and cats while eating pigs and cows who have suffered all their lives in industrial facilities. “All animals deserve to live free of cruelty.”
Oyku and her friend Eda Akun spread the veg philosophy and share recipes via a vegan food Instagram account named “Iyiye,” a Turkish word meaning both “to eat clean” and “to improve.” Their message is that we can become better versions of ourselves by eating clean. (BTW, it appears that Eda, also a hardcore rescuer and exercise buff, may be the first Turkish vegan woman pregnant with twins!)
In 2012 Oyku launched and curated one of Turkey’s most popular YouTube channels: Pembe Defter (Pink Book), focused on beauty and health tips featuring products not tested on animals. Originally, she had wanted to do a channel just about animal testing, but realizing that this theme would be unpopular in her country, came up with this alternative. Pembe Defter engages girls and young women with movies on topics like makeup while teaching them about kindness to animals, cruelty-free products and shelters for strays.
As she became vegan, however, Oyku understood that many animal ingredients make their way into non-animal-tested health products, which means they’re not really cruelty-free. She decided to take a sabbatical from the channel to focus on her life-changing transition. Recently Oyku started posting again, as a vegan, but hasn’t yet taken down all the videos covering non-vegan products. Rather than emptying the site of such content, she plans to trim it gradually as her vegan content grows. To Oyku’s knowledge, there is no other Turkish vegan channel.
Going positive on YouTube
Today Oyku runs a second Turkish-language YouTube channel, Positive Academy TV, focused on positive psychology. Providing information and advice for young Turks, Oyku helps them understand there’s more to personal happiness than material possessions. Authentic happiness, as defined by leaders in the field like Dr. Martin Seligman, comes from positive emotions, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and accomplishment. For Anglophone viewers, please note that Oyku is planning to launch an English-language positive psychology channel soon—we’ll let you know when it’s live.
To create movies and other content for Positive Academy TV, Oyku draws on professional training and skills. She studied at Istanbul’s Koc University, obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration & Psychology, an M.A. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and writing her thesis on Positive Psychology.
Oyku credits her advisor, Professor Cigdem Kagitcibasi, a septuagenarian and prominent member of the Turkish Psychological Association, with giving her the will to make the world a better place by educating women. The professor’s own research has shown how important that is, since women are in charge of raising children in Turkey. And Dr. Kagitcibasi also helped Oyku ignore the criticism of so many others discouraging her from advocating for animal rights, and follow her own path. In addition to these academic degrees, Oyku also has a certification in Positive Psychology with Barbara Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and a professional coach certification from Erickson College International, Canada.
The interplay between professional training and personal aims has been essential: “If it weren’t for positive psychology, I would have burnt out a long time ago,” says Oyku. “Where I live, there is so much going on with both pets and farm animals that one could easily fall into the trap of helplessness.” Like Fredrickson, Oyku believes in the “broaden-and-build” theory—the idea that when we’re experiencing positive emotions we’re better able to learn, find solutions and behave in effective ways. This does not mean pretending problems don’t exist, says Oyku. “On the contrary, I’ve spent my life studying the problems so that I can help make a change. Nevertheless, focusing on what can be done rather than on what can’t, and on improvements rather than on obstacles keeps me moving forward.”
And positive psychology even helps Oyku recognize the humanity of people who are harming animals in some way. “These people are not the enemy, they’re not bad people. There are always common characteristics through which we can communicate our advocacy, explain why we are doing what we are doing and create awareness.”
Walking the talk
Oyku isn’t just dispensing advice to others, she’s following it herself. For nearly a decade, she has rescued, fostered and rehomed stray animals. Mainly dogs, these strays often have behavioral issues due to inapt owners or difficult street conditions. So Oyku also had to learn about dog rehabilitation—becoming so good at it that she’s now the go-to person if a challenging rescue dog needs rehab before rehoming.
Fosters who were adopted
Among her many successes fostering animals in desperate need, Oyku told us the story of Leia, whom she found in a very bad state near a supermarket on a hot summer day. Children playing in the area told her a man had dropped off the poor dog, saying that since he now had the puppies, he no longer needed the mother.
Oyku immediately drove the motionless creature to a veterinary clinic. Fearing the worst, she was delighted to learn that Leia was just severely dehydrated! Oyku fostered this sweet girl until her health and strength were restored sufficiently for a friend from Istanbul to adopt her. Leia and her new human have been living happily together ever since.
Fosters who never left
Two dogs have been fortunate to find a permanent home with this tireless animal advocate. At the end of 2007, a rescue NGO asked Oyku to foster Suzie, an adult dog brought to a shelter by a woman who found her wandering in the street on a snowy day. Suzie had horrible diarrhea, which could be the reason she had been abandoned by her owners. (“My pet is sick” is a common excuse for abandonment in Turkey.) After eight months in Oyku’s house with no adoption in sight, Suzie became Oyku’s permanent baby.
Then there’s Cesar, named for good luck after well-known dog whisperer Cesar Millan. It’s extremely difficult to find a home for adult, mixed breed dogs like Cesar, even when they’re healthy. Unfortunately, Cesar was beginning to show symptoms of both lupus and leishmanial. In addition, x-rays revealed that he had been shot several times, and had many lead pellets still inside him.
Oyku heard about Cesar from a Facebook post that said the dog was going to be killed if somebody didn’t adopt him right away. Although they were over 300 miles away in Istanbul, Oyku and Eda set out to rescue Cesar in Izmir. When they arrived, the vet informed them that, with all those shotgun pellets inside him, Cesar would need regular blood tests to monitor for lead poisoning—instantly conferring “extremely difficult to rehome” status on the dog. Since this boy looked so much like Suzie and was equally unlikely to be adopted by anyone else, Oyku decided to make him a permanent member of her family.
Ever since, Oyku and Cesar have made regular visits to local veterinary clinics—and Oyku has spent many evenings reading academic papers on veterinary science. Since veterinary training in Turkey is focused more on evaluating farmed animals for human consumption than treating household pets, she’s had to do her homework to make sure her loved ones receive the best treatment possible. She even created this blog when she was desperate for a diagnosis. Trace Cesar’s progress toward wellness here, provide information or ideas that might help, or find ideas to improve the health of your own pets.
Animal rights activism
Beyond her personal commitment to caring for animals in need, Oyku is active in animal rights at both the local and national levels:
Haydos—Hands-on work, local action
Haydos is a charity organization as well as a shelter for some 600 dogs and 200 cats consider home. Although it’s located hundreds of miles from Istanbul, Oyku helps promote some of their campaigns online. And she acts as a delegate for them to Haytap, the national federation (see below).
This organization was created and is run by Türkan Dağdelen, a Turkish woman who had lived abroad for many years before returning to Turkey to explore the idea of opening a restaurant. Coming across a dog that had been the victim of rape, Türkan made the decision to scrap her initial plans and create an animal shelter instead. And she did precisely that, despite opposition, harassment and physical threats from some locals.
Haytap—legal work, national action
Though Oyku loves field work and dealing directly with animals, she also thinks changes need to happen in society at a macro level. Hence her involvement with Haytap, the Turkish animal rights federation, founded in 2006. As a volunteer and close friend of the founder, she helps the federation create awareness, educate people and provide member charities with funds. Haytap’s ultimate goal is to improve animal laws in Turkey, where currently animals are considered property, not living (never mind, sentient) beings.
We will dedicate a full feature article to Haydos and Haytap in a future issue.
As for the future of animal rights and veganism in Turkey? Oyku remains positively optimistic. She tells us awareness campaigns have been paying off, citing as evidence that some Turkish municipalities have set up feeding corners for strays. She also perceives a significant shift underway in how the average person thinks about animals. In addition, veganism is spreading and several vegan cafes opened in Istanbul last year.