Cats in Israel: overview

by N

There are lots of cats in Israel - Photo copyright Stephanie_Smith (Flickr)

There are lots of cats in Israel - Photo copyright Stephanie_Smith (Flickr)

If you have ever visited a city in Israel, you have probably noticed the sheer number of cats on the street. There is even a Cat Square in Jerusalem! Some of them rummage bins for scraps of food and dart away with lightning speed at anyone's approach, while others have mastered the art of luring in passers-by or cafe patrons and extracting half-eaten sandwiches.

The situation is similar to that in many Mediterranean cities, like Rome and Athens, which sustain a large population of feral cats (and often dogs). The weather is usually mild enough to live outside and reproduce at a fast rate, and higher urban density equals higher food density equals higher cat density. This does not mean that the cats all live happy, healthy, long lives. The question is how street cats fare in Israel versus other places.

Israelis' attitudes towards cats vary, as anywhere, but they usually have other things on their minds and ignore them. Feral cats in cities are not there naturally, however, but due to human mismanagement. Simply not thinking about them or leaving them to fend for themselves is not the right answer. The effects of an overpopulation of cats, in the middle of a city with a great many dangers but not enough natural access to sources of clean food and water, or to any sort of medical care, are as may be expected.

In recent years, the situation has become a little less grim for cats in Israel, with concrete action taken along with a slowly growing appreciation of the wider issues involved. Not that long ago, it was certainly heard of for stray cats to be poisoned---at the behest of the local authorities themselves. An animal welfare law, first passed in 1994, now prohibits random poisonings; cruel treatment and torture of animals are made crimes as well, and a fund for animals was established. Laws exist on paper, but the mere fact it was legislated proves that a contingent cared enough and was vocal enough to push it onto the agenda, and the legal apparatus is now there. Cat declawing was also specifically voted illegal in November.

Strolling around, one does see some shops with bowls of food and water in front, and there are people who go further and take it upon themselves to care for the cats in a given neighbourhood. Since there can easily be half a dozen or more cats roaming around a single building, even part of a block can create a considerable expense, especially for a pensioner. Not all citizens believe in feeding and sheltering stray cats: there have been verbal assaults or worse on those who do.

A number of organized animal charities do now exist; there is someone to call for help with trapping an animal, to provide low-cost spaying and neutering, or to arrange for shelter and adoption of an animal rather than let it be killed. These all have limited resources, however, and one must keep in mind that even if they are able to help a few hundred or even thousand cats it barely amounts to a negligible fraction of the population.

Ultimately, the fate of street cats in Israel, and whether their lot will continue to improve or stay the same or get worse, will be a reflection of the fate of Israeli society. In theory, the condition of cats could be improved beyond recognition if there were will to do it, same as with other social or environmental problems. Israelis like to complain about everything, but, traditionally, talk has been cheap, and true reform hard won.

The picture, then, is very mixed. Does anyone have anything to report on the condition of cats in Israel (or Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Italy, etc.) by comparison?


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