Creature discomfort

The JSPCA is striving to work with the municipality to deal with the abandoning of pets and the growing population of stray cats and dogs.

cute dog 88 (photo credit: )
cute dog 88
(photo credit: )
The struggle to care for the seemingly never-ending stream of homeless cats and dogs continues at the Jerusalem Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' (JSPCA) animal shelter in Atarot, as reported by In Jerusalem in August. But the fate of the city's stray animals may deteriorate following recent interventions by the municipality, as well as a deepening funding crisis at the shelter. "Up until a few months ago, we were working with the municipality toward animal control in the city," says Chaya Beilei, manager of the nonprofit shelter and clinic, which care for 250 dogs and 50 cats. The JSPCA says that problems began around two months ago after two dogs belonging to a volunteer had run away near the shelter and swallowed poison laid down by the municipality. One of the dogs was saved, but the other died. "The poisoning was not aimed at us, it was a mistake," acknowledges Beilei, but she says that the organization received a cold response from the municipality about the incident, and it subsequently began dictating new rules and regulations to the JSPCA. "When it identifies a danger to the public, the municipality comes out periodically to poison dogs," explains Beilei, who notes that the stray dogs in Atarot are recognized by their lack of identification collars or microchips. JSPCA treasurer Yael Hanna Chitnick maintains that traps or anesthetics should be used as a humane alternative to poison. "It's against our belief to poison anything. It's like torture," she says. "We don't even poison rats," adds Beilei. New municipal red tape has included revoking the JSPCA's right to pick up stray dogs off the streets. "If the municipality picks up an animal, they don't neuter and spay it. They either put down the animal or give it away to a family," says Chitnick. The JSPCA picks up strays that it believes can be found a home after quarantining and sterilizing (neutering or spaying) them. If strays are adopted without being sterilized, warns the JSPCA, the existing pet overpopulation crisis is exacerbated. "For me, to think of one dog going to a family and then having puppies is unbearable," says Chitnick. The municipality has also demanded that the JSPCA have a vet present at each of the adoption days the organization holds around the city. "It's an extra hurdle. We have to pay for the vet and it's also time that they are not working at the shelter," comments Chitnick. She adds that the Atarot shelter and the 24-hour clinic in Talpiot have been running by virtue of a large donation received a few years ago, but this is down to "almost nothing." The JSPCA's already stretched resources are supplemented by volunteers, and remaining funds are rapidly eaten up by the NIS 30,000 bill for food each month, as well as salaries for two part-time vets and the equivalent of two and a half full-time secretarial and cleaning staff. Beilei told In Jerusalem that the JSPCA held a positive meeting with the municipality last week and hopes that relations will improve. "It's important that we all work together. It helps them [the municipality], it helps us and, most importantly, it helps the animals," she says. "We don't want to be at war with them," adds Chitnick. "I really have to blame the citizens of Israel," says Beilei who, between Chitnick and herself, relates countless tales of abandoned animals or excuses given by people for whom the novelty of a furry family member has worn thin: "We had a dog, but it didn't work out," "She's too fat," or "The children don't want to see him grow old." Chitnick showed In Jerusalem the shelter's dimly lit cat house. Behind the wires of one cage was a cat surrounded by its litter of 12 two-week-old kittens, fragile creatures who resemble mice more than felines, without homes to go to. "If anyone wonders why cats should be spayed, they should come here and take a look," she says.