Last year, Rishon Lezion filed more than 2,000 complaints from citizens objecting to feral cats being on the city streets. Residents complained about the odor and dirt, raw chicken parts being flung from windows to feed the cats, and fleas and ticks. In response, the head of the city's veterinary services, Dr. Jonathan Even Zor, adopted a policy that Tel Aviv University (TAU) had recommended to veterinarians in 2001 - that cat feeders must be licensed or face a NIS 600 fine. The decision to create licensed cat feeding stations has pitted two major animal rights groups against each other. The Israel Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals Tel Aviv (ISPCA Tel Aviv) is for the proposed law, saying it will ensure long-term health to cats and citizens; Rishon Loves Animals is against it, saying it will lead to increased animal abuse and abandonment. The two groups met on December 6 with city officials, researchers, veterinarians and cat feeders. Gadi Vitner of the ISPCA says that uncontrolled feeding of cats harms both people and cats. "The feeders cause others to hate cats. Feeders are providing a good breeding ground for the cats, which multiply three times a year," he says, noting that Rishon Loves Animals is not taking into account that feline illnesses and long-term abuses will not be stemmed if irresponsible feeding continues. "Rishon Loves Animals is saying that we want to murder all the cats in Israel. It's not true. We want to find a good solution," says Vitner. "We want to give them good food and responsible people to take care of them." Vitner, who rescues cats from city streets almost daily, says they don't live for more than a few years and eventually suffer from diseases such as incurable feline AIDS. Street cats get hit by cars, are abused by children who set their tails on fire, can eat poison and are often rounded up by research labs and sold to universities. Rishon Loves Animals chairwoman Ofra Rosenshine says they also want to see fewer cats on the streets - but not in this way. "We are against the bylaw. It doesn't say what the criteria will be for the cat feeders. We think it will cause cat stations where people will abandon their animals." And she thinks it will endanger cats and create more antagonism toward feeders. The bylaw is meant to be part of a bigger program, stresses Even Zor. "It won't be forbidden to feed animals. We're simply asking why there are so many cats on the streets and how can we solve this problem." The first stage of the plan will focus on education. The municipality is creating a teaching classroom and Internet-based materials. A clinic on Rehov Lehi will spay and neuter registered cat colonies. But that is not enough, says Even Zor. To be effective, 80% of the city's estimated 100,000 cats need to be neutered. "We'd need a budget of NIS 12 million. What municipality has such a budget?" Rosenshine thinks the money should come from the government. According to Even Zor the law, which is awaiting Interior Ministry approval, will state that to feed street cats, a person will need permission from the municipality. The feeder will have to fill out a form with details of the feeding station and how many cats it feeds. The municipality will send an inspector to ensure that residents agree to the feeding station. Standards of hygiene will have to be maintained, and feeders will be required to use dry food only. If the station location is not suitable to all neighbors, authorities will work with the feeders to find the best location. At the December 6 meeting, Rishon Loves Animals borrowed ideas from the US animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Through videos, they compared starving cats to Holocaust victims in Nazi death camps. The film inflamed those in favor of regulated feeding stations. According to Vitner, Mayor Meir Nitzan shouted, "Shame on you all!" to Rishon Loves Animals representatives. "My family was in the Holocaust. How can you think of this?" Inbal Brickner, alleges Vitner, was verbally attacked at the meeting. She had come to show Rishon Lezion residents that feral cats harm urban ecology and wildlife. She said songbirds, lizards and certain rodents are disappearing from the city; feral cats don't eat them but hunt them out of instinct. Says Rosenshine, "We can't ask a private person to take responsibility for things that should have been done [by the state] a long time ago. In 2002, this issue went to the Supreme Court, which said street cats are a protected animal. The policy of killing local cats is finished." Vitner says there are no other options for homeless cats. "It's better to put a cat down than have it suffer on the street. Every day we get calls about cats stuck in a jar, hit by cars or burned." Rishon Loves Animals plans to ask the Supreme Court to cancel the law. To adopt a cat, call ISPCA Tel Aviv at (03) 681-0061. For a feeding permit, call Rishon Lezion Veterinarian Service at (03) 942-3400. For Rishon Loves Animals, call 052-3264943.