Canine culture in the big city

Tel Aviv offers dog-owners and their pets advanced parks and services. Still, thousands of dogs are abandoned in the city each year

cute dog 88 (photo credit: )
cute dog 88
(photo credit: )
It's fun to be a dog in Tel Aviv," declares Tamara Elbaz, a Tel Aviv native and professional dog groomer. "The city considers the needs of dogs and their owners. It allows [dogs] to live in the public domain. It's comfortable for the animals, and it's comfortable for the people." According to Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, approximately 20,000 licensed canines call Tel Aviv home. With a human population numbering 371,000, the ratio of registered dogs to people stands at 1:18.5. The city could provide no statistics on strays. Elbaz runs the Tamush salon on Rehov Tchnerichowsky and has worked with dogs in the city for nearly three decades. She has seen Tel Aviv's canine population grow and change, a process followed inevitably by a transformation in the services available. "Tel Aviv…sets an example of how to integrate dogs into urban life," Elbaz, who has also spent time in the US, says with pride. Gan Meir, in the heart of Tel Aviv, is a prime example of peaceful coexistence between city dwellers and their dogs. Owners take their dogs into a fenced-off area and let them frolic off the leash, finding friends - or rivals - in other dogs. The more playful ones can wear themselves out tearing up and down wooden ramps, while the owners read, smoke, or chat. Meanwhile, only a couple of meters away, hundreds of pedestrians throng past on their way between Dizengoff Center and Rehov Allenby. "It's easier to own a dog in Tel Aviv than on a kibbutz," one young dog owner declares. "Well, maybe not easier. As easy," a friend chimes in as a golden retriever vies for attention. When Elbaz began her career in the 1980s, there were half as many grooming salons in the city. She refutes a common misconception that grooming services court only yuppies, explaining that her clients - both two-legged and four-legged - come from all walks of life. "There is no 'typical' client. There are people whose dogs are part of their family, and there are people whose dogs are part of their status," Elbaz points out, "but ultimately, people who love their dogs want the best for them." A grooming session isn't necessarily a beauty treatment, she notes. Often, groomers treat fleas or fur matted with mud. "The service I offer isn't expensive (averaging NIS 200 per treatment). There are one-time users and people who come regularly." Tel Aviv's dog culture is unique in Israel, she explains. In a city where apartment space is limited, smaller dogs have become popular. Over the past five or six years, Elbaz has noticed a growing preference for Pekingese, pugs, and other breeds of toy dogs. Also, she muses, Tel Aviv is a city that attracts newcomers, and having a dog can make life easier for a freshly transplanted citizen. "People approach you, you get to talking. Dogs solve the problem of loneliness in a big city," she says. Dogs in Tel Aviv can be divided - like its human inhabitants - into haves and have-nots. Only dogs lucky enough to have loving owners can enjoy the city's dog parks and canine services. However, as dog-friendly as Tel Aviv may be, residents of the city still abandon at least 4,800 dogs a year, says Gadi Vitner, spokesperson and manager of the Tel Aviv Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Israel (SPCA). According to Vitner, between 400 and 600 dogs are left to their fate each month in the city. Only 25 percent will find homes. The rest have to be euthanized - under the most humane conditions possible, he stresses, but still put to sleep. While he could not provide statistics on the number of abandoned dogs in other large Israeli cities, Vitner says that the public in Tel Aviv is "slightly more educated," and tends to leave dogs at the SPCA, rather than on the streets. In that aspect at least, Vitner says, Tel Aviv is "much better" than other cities. The municipality does not provide funding for the organization's activities, which include outreach and subsidized veterinary care in addition to rescuing and finding homes for animals (currently, some 200 dogs, including puppies, are waiting to be adopted). The SPCA depends on donations to meet its NIS 200,000 monthly budget. Vitner notes that the SPCA operates under the auspices of the Agriculture Ministry, and is the only animal welfare organization to take full responsibility for spaying and neutering the dogs and cats it adopts out. In response to SPCA allegations that it receives no support from the city, a spokesperson for Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality told Metro that in 2006, the city provided the Tel Aviv branch of the SPCA with NIS 132,887 in subsidized municipal taxes (arnona.) The spokesperson added that the Ramat Gan SPCA, whose premises are located in Tel Aviv, submitted a request for a subsidy in 2006. Th city treated the Ramat Gan SPCA's request in accordance with interior ministry guidelines that set new criteria for subsidies for non-profit organizations. The city expects to give the Ramat Gan SPCA an answer within the next two months. Israelis are learning to prevent unnecessary pain and suffering by neutering their pets, says Elbaz. "Israel is a young, mixed society and a lot of people come from cultures where they didn't raise animals at home - but look at how Tel Avivians have learned to pick up dog poop." She praises the city's efforts to convince its dog lovers to love their sidewalks. The municipality, she explains, has for years pushed an aggressive poop-and-scoop public education campaign. "Picking up after dogs is much more common nowadays. It used to be awful here - it's still not perfect, but compared to ten years ago, it's a different world," she says. Elbaz cites the plastic bag dispensers and receptacles set up and maintained by the city near popular dog-walking areas. "Tel Avivians love their city and want it to stay clean," Elbaz explains. "If you let your dog poop on the sidewalk and don't clean up after it, people will object. We say that people who don't clean up after their dogs aren't real Tel Avivians." Baruch, who likes to run his dog in north Tel Aviv's Yarkon Park, agrees with Elbaz. He insists that "everyone" who frequents the park with their dogs takes care to clean up after them. "Whenever I take [my dog] out, I carry a plastic bag. It's the right thing to do. There's no reason to mess up the city," he says. According to Baruch, while leash laws technically apply in Yarkon Park, the riverside expanse of walkways and trees does not attract the attention - and NIS 500 citations - of city inspectors who patrol elsewhere to ensure that dogs are properly restrained at all times. He rarely takes his dog to designated dog parks. "There are some enclosed spaces and dog parks [at Ganei Yehoshua in the Yarkon Park], but she prefers the grass." Keren regularly takes her pet to both the Yarkon Park and the Gan Meir dog park on Rehov King George, and appreciates the city's facilities for dogs and dog owners. She mentions, as did Elbaz, the plastic bags available to dog walkers who might inadvertently leave home without one handy, adding that the standard of Tel Aviv's facilities for dogs is notably higher than that in neighboring Givatayim and Ramat Gan. Pet adoption center inauguration The Let The Animals Live association (Tnu Lehayot Lihiyot) has hundreds of unwanted pets in its protection, and offers them for adoption. The non-profit organization will inaugurate a new adoption center in Ramat Hasharon tomorrow (January 27), at the Loriland farm near the national tennis center. The facility will be open every Shabbat from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Former soccer star-turned-television personality Itzik Zohar will grace the inaugural event with his presence. The organization's halfway house for abandoned animals near Ramle is reportedly overflowing with unwanted dogs and cats, and the public is invited to visit at any time and adopt a dog or cat. A myriad ways to help animals The AHAVA association, a non-profit animal welfare group, is planning a festive day today (Friday Jan. 26) for resident dogs in Tel Aviv's municipal kennels. AHAVA recently received a donation of frozen pastry stuffed with meat (unsuitable for human consumption), and volunteers have stepped forward to bake the pastry and help bring it to the kennels. AHAVA also needs donations of blankets and toys for the dogs in the kennels. The organization is planning similar 'happy days' in other city kennels around the country - if enough volunteers join in to help. AHAVA also needs help to build structures to protect the hundreds of dogs and cats rescued in the north from last summer's war from the cold. Unlike other animal rights groups in Israel, AHAVA's charter prohibits 'putting down' animals, and its volunteers took in every dog and cat that needed help during the recent war in Lebanon, many of them old or in poor health. Now these dogs and cats are in danger of dying from exposure to the cold weather. Because of a lack of funds, most of the animals are kept in unprotected open spaces, and the organization intends to construct shelters to protect them from the winds and rain. To donate money, food, toys or blankets, or help in volunteering to build shelters, please call 24 hours a day: 03-6446777.