Israel commits $1.27 million to fix feral cats

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  October 2013: (Actually published on November 20,  2013.)

TEL AVIV––The Israeli Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development has committed 4.5 million New Israel Shekels,  equivalent to $1.27 million U.S.,  to an effort to sterilize 45,000 feral cats before the end of May 2014––the anticipated peak of the next “kitten season.” Subsidies of up to 200,000 NIS ($56,000) will be offered to each municipality on a matching basis to help underwrite neuter/return programs.  Additional funding may be made available to larger cities with more cats and to poorer communities that have difficulty meeting the matching requirement. Cats eligible for subsidized sterilization must be at least four months of age,  must be held for 24 to 48 hours after surgery for observation,  must be vaccinated against rabies,  and must be returned to the point of capture. “As a result of a multitude of feeders and food offerings in the streets,  stray cats have multiplied significantly,”  Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development chief animal welfare officer Dganit Ben-Dov told media.  “On one hand,  this is a severe problem of animal welfare,  since street life results in cats suffering.  On the other hand,  in many cases,  the cats become an environmental hazard.” Because feral kittens are born at large,  they are always a fiscal responsibility of local authorities from day one,  Ben-Dov said,  unlike stray dogs,  who in Israel are usually abandoned pets. Much larger neuter/return programs for street dogs have been subsidized by both federal and municipal governments in many parts of the world,  most prominently India,  whose national Animal Birth Control program has now operated for more than a decade.  Turkey and Costa Rica also have had federally subsidized street dog sterilization programs for more than 10 years.  The Israeli program,  however,  is believed to be the largest for feral cats yet undertaken by any government. “We bless any effort and any resources that anyone can make available to help us address the feral cat problem,”  Jerusalem SPCA chair Varda Linett told ANIMAL PEOPLE.  “We welcome this,  and only fear that it will be a drip in the bucket because the numbers are so huge.” The potential impact of the Israeli program is hard to assess.  Media reports allege that Israel has as many as two million feral cats,  an extreme unlikelihood since the Israeli human population is barely eight million.  Only the U.S. verifiably has as many as one cat for every four people,  counting both pet cats and ferals. The Tel Aviv metropolitan area of about 3.6 million people is more credibly said to have about 39,000 feral cats;  shelters serving the Tel Aviv region reportedly receive more than 20,000 cats and kittens per year. Whatever the number of cats in Israel,  rabies cases among them are rare.  Rabies outbreaks recurring among cattle in the Golan Heights since 2009 have been traced to street dogs and jackals wandering in from Syria. The subsidized neuter/return program “is welcome news and I hope it will make a dent in the severe overpopulation problem,”  longtime Israeli cat rescuer and animal advocate Ellen Moshenburg told ANIMAL PEOPLE.  “In addition there is a need for more intensive public education.  Many people still object to neutering,  and/or are unwilling to spend the money to do it.  There also needs to be supervision of the municipal programs to be sure minimum professional standards are met,”  Moshenburg said. Nonprofit organizations have practiced neuter/return in Israel for decades,  including the Israel Cat Lovers’ Society,  founded in 1966 to serve the street cat population of Haifa and northern Israel,  and the Cat Welfare Society,  formed by Rivi Meyer in 1990. Some neuter/return campaigns have previously received government subsidies.  “Since 1995 we have received some funding from the Ministry for Environmental Quality,  and since 1998,  a small amount from Haifa municipality,”  acknowledges the Israel Cat Lovers’ Society web site.  The Haifa funding enables the Israel Cat Lovers’ Society to spay nearly 2,000 cats per year,  the web site says. The Israeli Agriculture Ministry Veterinary Service,  as it was then called,  formerly poisoned feral cats with strychnine.  The Israeli Supreme Court ruled against this practice in June 2004. “The killing of street cats…must be the last step,  taken only when the public cannot be protected by other reasonable means,”  wrote Justice Dalia Dorner.

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