Israel's state budget will now see an increase in money allocated for helping out the country's exceptionally large population of cats.
The deal was reached by Yesh Atid MK Jasmine Sax-Fridman in cooperation with Agriculture Minister Oded Forer and Knesset Finance Committee chairman MK Alex Kushnir (both of whom are from Yisrael Beytenu), and will see the budget increase by NIS 12 million, more than double what had been allocated in previous years.
Per the initiative of Sax-Fridman, a self-professed third-generation cat feeder, NIS six million will be allocated in 2022 and again in 2023 to help spay and neuter stray cats.
"This is a quick and temporary solution that will be integrated into the state budget for 2022-2023, and we will continue to fight for the welfare of local cats and reduce the economic burden currently on the shoulders of activists," Sax-Fridman said in a statement.
Kushnir came out in firm support of the initiative.
"Every day, unnecessary suffering and grief are inflicted on thousands of stray cats that are not neutered or spayed," he wrote on Facebook. "Wounded and hungry kittens die as young as just a few months old, and many cats go through their lives suffering."
Israel has an extremely large population of cats, with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Israel (SPCA) placing it at over two million stray cats alone, far larger than many population demographics.
For comparison, in Washington, an effort has recently been launched to count the number of cats in the city, as noted by AFP. This DC Cat Count will take an estimated three years, but preliminary estimations suggest that the city has a population of 200,000 cats – half of them indoor-only cats, and the other half either pet cats with some degree of access to the outdoors or stray cats. This takes place in a city with an area of 177 sq. km. and a population of over 680,000, making it the 20th largest city in the US.
Jerusalem, on the other hand, is far smaller in size, with an area of around 125 sq.km., but a population of over 936,000. And its local stray cat population is, according to some estimates, a whopping 300,000. And without spaying and neutering them, their population will continue to grow.
Many of these cats live in especially poor conditions, and many people fear the situation was only worsened in the COVID-19 crisis.
THE NEW budget was received positively by the Association for Veterinarians in Israel.
"We welcome the new spirit and the government's decision to increase the budget for the care of local cats and to effectively regulate their population," the association said in a statement, noting that they support preventing the suffering of animals and improving their well-being.
But, surprisingly, the SPCA was far from pleased with the move.
"The Agriculture Ministry spends so much money on the cats, but nothing ever happens. It just gets worse and worse," SPCA spokesman Gadi Vitner explained. "It's absolutely outrageous how they treat the cats on the streets. They think spaying and neutering can solve the problem, but the streets are not a place for cats to live: It's a disaster. It's painful for them and puts them at risk of cars, dogs and lack of food."
He criticized the amount of money allocated to spaying and neutering cats, adding that the "Agriculture Ministry spends the money very badly."
"There are a lot of better programs, but if you want to spend money on spaying and neutering, six million [per year] is not enough," Vitner said. "You'd need NIS 20 million and to make a very serious five-year plan – and then maybe you can reduce the numbers.
"But the Agriculture Ministry doesn't do it properly: They give out the money just for public relations and to show the people how good they are and how they're thinking about the cats on the streets, but it's not right," he lamented.
"The cats shouldn't even be on the streets, it's a very big problem in Israel. Every day at the SPCA we see the horrors that happen to the cats, and we think it's better if the Agriculture Ministry sat with the rescue organizations to come up with a plan rather than just give out some money to shut everyone up."
Vitner further accused the move, charging that the money only benefits one group: the veterinarians. "They make big business when they capture and release cats back on the streets and they just suffer even more," he said. "All over the world, in Western Europe, you don't see cats or dogs in the streets like this. In Israel, it's terrible," he said.
"If the Agriculture Ministry really wanted to stop the suffering, why did we have to wait so many years? Why don't they put NIS 20-30 million and make a good plan to save suffering cats from the streets and take them to rescuers or a hospital – and even put them down [mercy killing] if they're suffering so terribly?"