According to an English proverb, “The cat has nine lives – three for playing, three for straying and three for staying.”
“The cat has nine lives – three for playing, three for straying and three for staying.”English proverb
Aside from this proverb, much has been written about our furry-feline friends, including the long-running, hugely successful West End/Broadway musical Cats; and one of my favorite ever songs, “Stray Cats Strut,” by the popular ’80s band Stray Cats (now I’m showing my age).
As a doggy person (I’ve always been of the opinion that you’re one or the other, although many would disagree) I’ve never had much time for cats. Had I come across one in Manchester, where I lived before making aliyah, at a friend’s house, for example, I’d always be a little wary and give it a wide berth.
Safe to say, cats never really featured in my life – until I moved to Israel.
Those who are familiar with Israel will know that stray cats are part and parcel of its society; they are everywhere. Various stories abound about how and why cats became so prevalent in Israel, the most popular of which is that they were introduced by those pesky Brits during the British Mandate in a bid to deal with the country’s rather large rat population.
Since then, thanks to the warm climate, the cat population has exploded – and shows no sign of abating.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Israel estimates that there are around two million street cats making a nuisance of themselves in their fight for survival. According to Haaretz, however, as of January last year, “Israel’s Agriculture Ministry estimates there are about 1 million cats roaming about the country’s public spaces.”
One thing I’m certain everyone can agree on, is that there are too many of “them” on the streets, and not enough of “us” looking after them. This can lead to problems on both sides; not just for those who share their public spaces with them, but more distressingly, for the cats themselves.
These helpless creatures, here through no fault of their own, are often neglected, sick and desperately hungry. Many meet their deaths on the busy roads, totally oblivious to the dangers there.
As SPCA Israel spokesperson Gadi Vitner told The Jerusalem Post in a recent article, “Nobody has made real progress to stop the suffering of this poor animal. It’s very sad. They all say there’s no budget, and animals are kept at the bottom of priorities, and that’s a problem.”
“Nobody has made real progress to stop the suffering of this poor animal. It’s very sad. They all say there’s no budget, and animals are kept at the bottom of priorities, and that’s a problem.”Gadi Vitner
This problem has been addressed by the government, to some extent.
The Environmental Protection Ministry has issued guidelines on how to feed stray cats, with the emphasis being on making sure they are kept safe and don’t become a nuisance and that the feeding area is kept clean.
On the subject of feeding strays, the other morning, I was standing on my balcony when I noticed a woman walking down the street, carrying a large, pink Rami Levy bag. As she made her way along the pavement, she reached into her bag and left handfuls of cat food under the bushes by the side of the road. Around a dozen cats soon appeared, happily tucking into the breakfast she had left for them.
While I and some others in the area lauded her kind gesture – “We should all take a leaf out of her book and do something altruistic every day,” said Jonathan Lieberman, a neighbor – there are those who railed against it.
“Never understood how this behavior is allowed, it just encourages strays to hang around the neighborhood,” said Dina Slutzkin.
And these differing views were just the tip of the iceberg, as I soon discovered when I took to Facebook to see how people across the country, and not just in my immediate circle, felt about this issue.
I asked the following question in a large group, “should you feed stray cats?” whereupon hundreds of comments came flooding in.
Scores of people on both sides feel very strongly about this issue. The debate became quite heated and ugly at one point, causing a moderator of the group to step in to calm things down.
I was personally attacked, simply for posing the question to the group.
The first comment came from a local woman, Seagal Hagege, who simply said, “Yes. In designated areas or in bowls.”
Fair enough, I thought.
Joe Jacobs then chimed in, “Only if they’ve been neutered/spayed.”
Another good point.
Adopting these strays and giving them a loving home was another suggestion, although as some said, lovely though this idea is in theory, it is simply not possible for many to adopt and care for a pet.
If you can’t give a stray cat a home, Lola Cohen suggests, “make life easier for the ones in your immediate vicinity by feeding them. I do, every day,” she continued.
Many agree with her, “Yes, it’s the humane thing to do,” one woman simply stated.
Tova Saul goes one (or 1,000) step further. She claims to, “have spayed over 1,000 cats in the Old City... to prevent gargantuan suffering of tens of thousands of dying kittens.”
She then goes on to ask, “Why can’t other people take responsibility for getting at least 20 cats in their neighborhood spayed who live near their house?”
She has a point; helping to arrest the exponential breeding and suffering of stray cats is something with which, in theory, we can all help, calling on the local authority to assist if necessary. TNR (trap, neuter and return) is a phrase that kept cropping up.
In practice, however, sadly, this is not realistic. Not everyone has the time, the means or the inclination to help stray cats. They are simply not on the list of priorities.
This is far from the case for one man, Steven Puzarne, who has set up an amutah (nonprofit organization) that provides food, neutering and medical care for around 30 cats. He himself has adopted nine cats from different villages across the country.
Two of them, Radley and Humberto, both alpha males born in an Arab village and on a kibbutz, respectively, have, surprisingly, been inseparable since they first met.
Puzarne puts this down to his warm and welcoming home. “In an atmosphere of great love, all things are possible,” he says, optimistically.
And then there are the opposing views, albeit less in number, mainly resulting from a bad-cat experience of one sort or another.
Corinna Menkes firmly believes that cats should not be fed around schools or shuls, as doing so only encourages them to hang around, causing problems. She recounted the distressing tale of her nine-month-old son being viciously attacked by a cat living next to her daughter’s nursery, almost causing him to lose an eye. He now has a small scar.
Some dog owners have a problem with stray cats too, claiming that many small dogs have been attacked by them. “If I see a cat we turn and go a different way,” says one woman who has asked to remain anonymous, such is the abuse she has received as a result of her “strong dislike of feral cats.”
“No! No! No!” another exclaimed when asked if you should feed stray cats. “They won’t take care of the rats or snakes if they’re fat and happy. If you want a pet, take it into your house and feed it as much as you want!” she continued.
Maybe she has a point as well – although I don’t see many rats or snakes hanging around, despite the street cats in my area being cared for by the good people living here.
While the preponderance of opinion seems to be in favor of feeding stray cats, many still think that it is not wise to do so.
Not feeding these poor, pathetic, helpless creatures only leads to increased suffering, which, arguably, no one wants.
So, what’s the answer?
Until the government steps in and does something to arrest their numbers and help them, it is up to us to take up the slack.
Even if it’s just putting out a bowl of water on the street – that’s something, especially in the summer months when the poor things are parched.
In all probability, those who are so inclined are already going the extra mile to help strays, although, perhaps, having read this article, others will join them in their good work.
After all, as Sigmund Freud once said, “Time spent with cats is never wasted.”
The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Israel where she works at The Jerusalem Post.