It’s after dark, and at the hour when most families across the city are sitting
down to dinner, Avishai Rozen is climbing out of an animal ambulance, full swing
into his shift as an animal inspector for the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality. In
his hands (but held at arm’s length) is a small dog, a mix of pinscher and
something else. It is shaking and shivering and is covered in its own
A veterinarian opens the door of the city’s animal shelter. “Poor
thing,” says Dr. Israel Holzman, one of the municipal veterinarians on
“Yes, he vomited during the ride and he was scared from being in
the cage,” Rozen explains.
Holzman passes a wand over the little
“He has no chip,” he says out loud. “How old do you think he is,
Avishai?” “Maybe four months,” Rozen replies.
“Yes, four, four and a half
months,” Holzman agrees.
The city’s veterinary department provides
services to the 400,000-plus humans and countless non-humans that that reside
within Tel Aviv’s borders. These include operating an animal shelter with the
capacity to house some 70 dogs, providing spaying, neutering and health care for
both cats and dogs, sending out city inspectors who check on animal welfare and
perform animal rescues, and overseeing meat inspections for the products sold
within the city markets.
In addition to its human, canine and feline
inhabitants, Tel Aviv is home to horses and donkeys, jackals, foxes and birds,
among other animals, scattered throughout the fields on the outskirts of the
city, and in the parks, according to Dr.
Zvi Galin, the head municipal
veterinarian. But the cats and dogs are the primary focus of the department’s
“In the shelter we care for feral cats and dogs – the cats that
are brought to us go through spaying or neutering, and are then returned to
where they came from.” Abandoned dogs that arrive at the shelter are housed
there until foster families and adoptive families can be found for
“Malka, come here,” says Holzman. Malka walks over to Holzman and
slinks in between his feet, rubbing her head against his legs. It’s a Friday
morning, and the municipal shelter’s grounds are full of barking dogs, busy
volunteers, potential adoptive families, and this small, friendly white cat who
is looking for some loving.
“Poor Malka,” Holzman says. Her face is
covered with mucus, caked under her eyes. “She has a cold and maybe also an
infection, and I gave her some antibiotics, now we’re waiting to see if they
The municipality began its program of spaying and neutering feral
cats in 1994, according to Galin.
This replaced the city’s prior method
of poisoning and was in line with the new “no-kill” principle – both for feral
cats and abandoned dogs – that over the past two decades has become more common
“There has been major development in public awareness
regarding the rights of animals that wasn’t there 18 years ago,” says Galin.
“Then it was more evenly split between people who said you should put the
animals to sleep, and those who said you should put them in shelters. Today,
those who believe in putting them to sleep are a minority.”
municipality has joined forces with the nearly 5,000 residents regularly feeding
the feral cat populations of Tel Aviv to implement its population management
“Those who feed the cats and want to have them neutered or
spayed can call in,” Galin explains.
“We ask that the day before we are
scheduled to take the cats, they not feed them because then they are easier to
catch. We do the operation and 24 hours later return them to their original
This way there is less noise, fewer births and fewer cats in
Walking into the caged area of the city’s animal shelter is
reminiscent of a prison movie, but instead of catcalls and whistles, there are
the barks, yelps, growls and cries of dozens of dogs, of all colors, shapes,
sizes and breeds, each clamoring for individual attention.
their paws under the gates, their muzzles through the bars, some jump up and
down, and others stand on their hind legs, resting their paws on the cage.
Regardless of how they act, the message seems to be the same: “Pick me, pick
me!” The shelter has the capacity to house up to 70 dogs, according to Galin,
plus some 40 to 50 dogs are placed in foster homes at any given time. The
shelter also spays, neuters and immunizes the dogs it houses, in addition to
offering rabies immunization to dogs brought in by their owners from all over
There are some 25 adult volunteers who come in several times a
week to give the dogs human companionship – they walk them, play with them and
check on their food and water.
An after-work crowd of volunteers has
gathered in a building of Tel Aviv’s municipal inspections department. On the
wall hangs a sign reading “The goal: Ensuring the quality of life in the city.”
A few fluffy, poodle-like dogs lounge around on the floor, faithfully watching
their owners. Their masters, along with the other humans, are being led through
a session on animal medicine by a city veterinarian.
The sleeves of his
button-down shirt are rolled up and he is all business.
“Let’s do a
review. This is horse anatomy, but it is basically the same for all four-legged
creatures,” the man says, as he slaps an illustration of the heart of a horse up
on the screen. They talk about anemia, animal tourniquets, feline blood
transfusions and more. “Cats have 22 blood types,” the veterinarian tells the
“Yeah – they have nine lives, and each one has a few types of
blood!” a dark-haired young man in the back quips. His fellow volunteers chuckle
In addition to providing care for the canines, volunteers
are responsible for the shelter’s website, on which are listed all the dogs
awaiting adoptive families. Volunteers manage the social media – Facebook,
Instagram; Israeli Internet activity such as on Ynet, Nana and WinWin; public
relations efforts including appearances and pitches on news and radio shows, and
they are on-site during adoption days, assisting in matching up dogs with
Later in the evening, the audience is introduced to
Leah, a big, friendly, golden-haired dog. She lives with Rozen, who in addition
to serving as a municipal animal inspector is a professional dog
Originally selected to be an assistance dog for the handicapped,
Leah failed her training because, as Rozen puts it, “she always wants to play,
when she sees a cat she wants to play with it, so she couldn’t work with the
Today, Leah and Rozen travel around the city, and via
projects and workshops, go into schools and organizations to help people in
other ways. “She still works as a service dog,” he explains. “I’ve taught her to
open the door, or therapeutic actions like putting her head on your
Tonight, Leah is showing off her talents.
“She is a little
shy,” Rozen tells the volunteers.
“Artza [down], Leah.” She lies down.
“Talk to me.” Leah barks, the
audience “awwws” in unison.
“Give a hug, Leah,” “roll over, Leah,” “give
me a kiss, Leah.” The volunteers laugh.
Then Rozen begins to talk to them
about dog behavior.
“The problems in behavior come from the mistakes of
dog owners,” he reminds the volunteers. “The dog needs to know that it is the
dog, and the human being is the human being, and not the other way around. It
creates a giant mess if we don’t know to identify and put limits on these
The volunteers listen intently, throwing out questions every
once in a while. The room is full of laughs and smiles, everyone seems very,
very upbeat. The volunteers come from all walks of life, and from as far away as
Canada, Zimbabwe, the United Kingdom and Slovakia. But regardless of their
differences, one thing is evident – everyone here is a dog lover.
really do sacred work,” says Rozen, “I am very proud of this place, the work
that we do here and of all the volunteers.”
A few nights later, Rozen is
out in the animal ambulance. He’s just come from picking up an injured wild
ring-necked parakeet from a private veterinary clinic and dropping it off at the
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They will most likely deliver
it to the Zoological Center Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan (also called the Ramat Gan
Safari), which has staff specializing in birds.
Now Rozen is headed out
to Jaffa, to do a welfare check on three dogs and two horses. His partner, a
municipal driver named Eran, eases the vehicle to a rest by a dark field, hidden
behind an empty parking lot, and stuck in between a number of old, dilapidated
buildings, in an area that doesn’t look very conducive to living. The last time
that they were here, they came with the police, Rozen explains, but the owner
was cooperative, so this time they have come alone.
It is cold, and the
field is muddy, but Rozen climbs out of the truck to check on things from up
“I told him to get the dogs licenses, to give the animals water
and to provide them with some sort of shelter,” says Rozen.
But the dogs
are already gone, taken to back to Tiberias. Just a horse stands alone, hunkered
by a tree with a plastic canvas strung above it for shelter.
us for all sorts of things,” Rozen explains as he walks back to the car. “For
example, if a cat is stuck in a tree or if it is mewing,” he says.
so a cat is in a tree, or it’s mewing, but that is natural, why should I bring a
cat out of a tree? We do not need to get involved in everything.”
Another issue the municipal veterinary services are involved in is meat inspections.
Throughout the day, refrigerated trucks pull into the shelter’s parking lot, and
one of the veterinarians goes out to meet them.
“We are responsible for
public health, that’s our job. One of the things we do is check the meat before
it is sold,” Holzman says. He’s got a meat thermometer in hand, and is ready to
sign off on one of the truck drivers’ paperwork.
The meat and poultry
sold to consumers is overseen by a veterinarian through every step of the
process – from the farm to the slaughterhouse to packaging and transport, and
finally, to stores and markets. In addition to the veterinarians who check the
trucks coming in, there are others who go out and do spot checks on the products
in the markets.
“We make sure that it is suitable for human consumption,”
Still, with all the things they do, there is one service of
the municipal veterinary department that people are most familiar with – the
adoption of dogs.
It is a perfect, sunny Friday morning, and though the
air is a bit chilly, the grounds are full of barking canines and talking people.
Children sit on a bench cuddling small puppies on their laps. Families are
collected in bunches, dogs waiting to meet and greet them.
wander from person to person, dog to dog.
In his small office off to the
side, Holzman is busy, checking dogs before releasing them back to their owners,
some new, others old. At the moment, he is with Sima Hershkovits and Nuni, who
have only just met but are going home together.
Hershkovits came after
seeing a newspaper article on dogs for adoption at the municipal shelter. She
was cooking Shabbat dinner when she took a break to read the paper.
told my son, ‘let’s go there now,’ and I left the kitchen in the
She holds Nuni on her shoulder as the dog happily snuggles
“I came and petted her and she licked my finger.
I petted her sister, she bit my finger,” Hershkovits says with a laugh. “Even
though her sister was prettier, I’m not taking a dog that bites me. I wanted
something I could pet and take care of and I wanted to have someone to talk to
when I am alone. It makes me feel good to adopt a dog, and it does them good. If
I could I would take them all,” she says with a smile.
At the end of the
afternoon, the volunteers take the dogs that are left back to their cages.
They’ve checked their food and water. They’ve given them love and attention. But
the volunteers have finished their day, and the animals will soon be on their
own for another night. The dogs bark as their caretakers leave. But after a few
minutes, the barks die down. All except for the woeful cries of one lonely
canine, desperately calling out for someone to take him home.