'How much is that doggie...?'

The matching process between dogs and humans is mysterious and special.

puppy 88 (photo credit: )
puppy 88
(photo credit: )
Chedva Van den Brook has tears in her eyes as she talks about the phone call she received a few months ago from a sanitation worker. "I can't stand it anymore," the worker told her. "If I see another bag filled with dead cats and dogs, I'll be sick. People just throw them away - they treat animals like garbage." As the director of the Jerusalem Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA), Van den Brook is used to such stories - but she says they never get easier to deal with. JSPCA - whose Hebrew name, Tza'ar Ba'alei Haim, references the biblical edict referring to concern for an animal's suffering - deals with approximately 3,000 abandoned and abused animals a year. While the majority are cats and dogs, JSPCA often helps donkeys, chickens and other farm animals. "What we see - you wouldn't believe," Van den Brook says. "It's enough to give you nightmares." JSPCA has been alerted, she notes, to cases of donkeys set on fire by their Arab and Beduin owners. "As an organization in Jerusalem," she adds, "we have it especially hard. [In] both the Arab and religious Jewish communities, there is a lack of concern for the suffering of animals." As an observant Jew herself, Van den Brook says that she is particularly horrified by cases of abuse at the hands of religious families. "It goes against everything in the Bible - we've seen dogs starved to death, deprived of water in the worst heat… even hanged and burned. I wish religious Jews would have more compassion." Van den Brook also cites a lack of awareness about the need to spay and neuter pets, an issue that she said makes JSPCA's work especially hard. At any given time, the organization's overtaxed shelter in Atarot holds anywhere up to 400 animals, operating, Van den Brook says, on a shoestring budget. "We get NIS 80,000 from the city every year," she complains, "and that only lasts us for one month. Taxes, food, water and electricity really add up." Neither van den Brook nor her colleagues receive a salary - only the shelter's veterinarian is paid. In order to cover some of the shelter's costs, JSPCA runs a clinic, whose profits go toward maintaining the Atarot site. In addition, the organization charges a fee of NIS 550 to adopt a dog and NIS 350 for a cat. The money, Van den Brook notes, pays for the animals' shots and sterilization. Every other Friday, from 12-3 p.m., JSPCA sets up camp in the yard of the Center for Culture on Rehov Emek Refaim. A cadre of volunteers cuddle and play with the group of animals that are up for adoption and passersby interested in adoption stop to interact with the animals. Between 40 and 50 dogs and 20 to 25 cats are adopted each month. "There are lots of dogs, but not enough people who want them," she observes. "The big ones are the problem - the small ones go fast." She adds that the dogs suffer from a stigma. "People think that all the animals here suffer from trauma, that they won't be good pets. But that's not true. We try to be honest, to tell people if a dog is too aggressive. We make sure they understand that the little puppy will grow into a big dog. We also try very hard to match humans and dogs according to lifestyle, work, age, experience, abilities-I won't give a big dog to someone frail, for instance." The matching process between dogs and humans, she says, is mysterious and special. "Why does this person choose this dog? It's like asking why two people fell in love - there's just a 'click.'" A dark-haired girl named Anastasia smiles at Van den Brook, having just experienced that mysterious "click" with a sweet-looking German Shepherd puppy. "I wanted this type," she says. "I've been looking for a long time, in person and on the Internet, but I just didn't find the right one. But I saw her and fell in love." Why? "She has a good personality. You can just tell." A passerby named Yoav said that he didn't know exactly what he was looking for, but he'd know when he found it. "With my last dog," he says, "It wasn't even a thought. I went to the shelter and I walked past all the cages and all the dogs were barking. Then I saw this one dog - nothing special to look at, just a mixed breed - but she was sitting quietly, looking at me with her ears perked up. I knew right away." Not everyone, Van den Brook says, leaves their choice of dog up to the hand of fate or the call of their inner nurturer. "Ugly people tend to choose beautiful dogs," she says, "and some people want a dog to match the sofa." To adopt an animal, make a donation or volunteer for JSPCA, call Chedva at 054-770-0225 or Chaya at: 054-770-0221.