Treating Israel’s cat problems

When Ilene Lubin first made aliya from Michigan, she never thought she would be immersed in a world of fighting feral felines.

Ilene Lubin bends down to pet a cat 370 (photo credit: Ilene Lubin)
Ilene Lubin bends down to pet a cat 370
(photo credit: Ilene Lubin)
When Ilene Lubin first made aliya from Michigan about a year-and-a-half ago, she never thought that she would be immersed in a world of fighting feral felines.
“If you would have told me before I made aliya that I would know about cats what I know now, I would say you’re crazy,” she told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
But the screeches of dueling street cats and crowds of the animals that blocked her building’s door made her desperate for a solution.
“That was the hardest part of my aliya – dealing with the environment issues in Israel,” she said.
About a year ago, Lubin and her husband first started using their pocket money to bring stray cats – about 20, thus far – from Givat Ze’ev, north of Jerusalem, for spaying and neutering at local veterinary clinics.
And in August, Lubin decided to establish a full-fledged nonprofit organization whose mission would be “to solve the stray and feral cat epidemic that plagues the streets and neighborhoods of Israel.”
The organization, Meow Mitzvah Mission of Israel, aims to “conquer and divide” to improve Israel’s cities, beginning with Jerusalem, one neighborhood at a time. Although still very much in its “infancy stage,” the Meow Mitzvah Mission is about to receive official 5013c status from the United States government, Lubin said.
Cats were not prominent in Israel’s streets until the 1930s, when they were brought in to help eradicate a rat problem, but this decision ultimately caused a “cat infestation” in and of itself. No one knows exactly how many of the street cats live in Israel now, but estimates say about 2 million, according to Meow Mission.
The new organization’s philosophy is based on a P.E.A.C.E. initiative – Provide long-term, ethical solutions for reducing and controlling street cat overpopulation; Educate community members about feral and stray cats; Advocate for neutering and vaccination programs; Collaborate with private and public organizations to achieve the organization’s goals; and Enhance quality of life for Israel’s residents.
The specific neutering and vaccination route that the Meow Mitzvah Mission advocates is through an acronym called “TNVR+M”: Trap a colony of cats in a humane fashion, Neuter males and spay females, Vaccinate for rabies and other diseases, Return the cats to their outdoor homes, and Monitor and provide for basic future needs and ongoing medical care when necessary.
Meow Mitzvah Mission would pay for all of the costs associated with this program through private donations, and aims to work with each individual municipality to handle the logistics. Lubin has received $10,000 worth of start-up funds from American donors thus far. Average vaccination and spaying or neutering for feral cats costs about NIS 100- 150 per animal, she said.
“Our main focus is to work within Jerusalem initially and then expand throughout the country,” Lubin said, noting that there are, however, already a couple of strong programs in Haifa and Tel Aviv. “We want to have some success with a few communities here so we can have a model.”
All of the cats that Lubin has taken in for sterilization and vaccination personally have come from colonies in Givat Ze’ev, and most of the females have been pregnant. Once the veterinarians administer the treatments, they clip off part of the animal’s left ear – “an international symbol” that indicates the cats have been cared for, according to Lubin.
“In order for us to truly reduce the number of cats on the street and have an impact on the overpopulation crisis – I call it an epidemic – in order to really truly have an impact, you have to spay and neuter a minimum of 70 percent of the cats on the streets,” she said.