cat lady 88.
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A project matching homeless pets with lonely Holocaust survivors is in danger of closing due to mounting debts faced by the animal welfare organization that runs it.
The Ahava Association spent more than $180,000 saving abandoned and injured cats and dogs during last summer's war in the North and, according to spokeswoman Tamara More, has no funding left to run its two-year-old Holocaust survivors project, which makes daily life more bearable for close to 100 survivors nationwide.
"We distributed more than 11 tons of dry food and three thousand bowls of water to abandoned dogs and cats and took in close to 600 animals," said More in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "We no longer have the funds to send out food each month for the dogs and cats living in survivors' homes and which are in desperate need of help."
The Holocaust survivors project not only places canine and feline companions with lonely survivors, it also provides many more of them with financial and physical assistance in caring for their pets. Ahava volunteers visit the survivors on a monthly basis to deliver pet food. For those who cannot afford the expense of raising a dog or cat, the organization also helps with medical bills, including vaccinations and neutering, and taking the animals for regular veterinary check-ups.
"Many of Israel's Holocaust survivors are elderly, in their 80s or 90s, they live alone and never leave their houses. Because they are lonely they start to dwell on what happened to them during the war. Having a pet can really help ease that pain," explained More, adding that dog owners, for example, have to leave their homes three times a day to walk the dog. "They can meet other people with dogs and it can really change their lives." So far 28 dogs and cats have found permanent homes with Holocaust survivors, said More.
One such survivor who has benefited from the project is Yehudit Cantor, who less than two years ago had almost given up on life.
"I used to argue with God and tell God that I'd lived a long time and had enough," Cantor told the Post, as she recalled how she'd spent the early years of her life hiding in bomb shelters. Later she fled to the hills when the Nazis invaded her native Transylvania.
She said the things she had experienced during World War II were "too painful for me to talk about," and "things a normal brain would not be able to comprehend." A divorced mother of two, Cantor had been living alone for more than 15 years when a year-and-a-half-ago, an Ahava volunteer had suggested she might enjoy the company of a pet.
"It [the program] changed my life," she said. "Now I don't feel alone anymore and I can't die yet because I have to take care of Mitzi."
More said that she has noticed a marked change in the overall attitude of other survivors too. "They have another live being in their home and don't feel so alone anymore," she noted. "People who could not talk to their children or grandchildren about their experiences during the war, are more comfortable opening up to their pets."
"People say cats don't connect with their owners, only with their surroundings but that's rubbish. My cat talks to me, she purrs when she's happy and 'meows' to say thank you. In the evening we watch TV together and if I'm cold, she warms my feet," said Cantor, a Haifa resident who eventually made it to Israel in 1957 at age 18. "Unless someone has a cat, I don't think they would really understand the magic they bring."
While More said the goal is to eventually open up the project to other lonely, elderly citizens looking for pets, unless the organization gets an injection of cash soon, the Holocaust survivors project and other programs to save stray and abandoned animals will have to be put on hold. Those interested in helping can contact Ahava at (09) 958-8833 or (03) 644-6777.
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