Feeding Stray Cats, an Israeli Custom

Anat Rosenberg
Anat Rosenberg
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Young street cats eating dried food with sauce.Credit: Yoram Tebol
Anat Rosenberg
Anat Rosenberg

One of the things that attract visitors to Israel is its Mediterranean climate: long, hot summers and short, relatively balmy winters. But it turns out that the country's climate isn't just ideal for tourists, it's also perfect for other, more permanent visitors: cats.

Street cats are virtually everywhere: roaming the streets, traipsing on the beach, jumping in and out of trash bins, forlornly waiting for scraps from kind-hearted souls at cafes and restaurants. At least one has even been found wandering the halls of this newspaper's offices, scrounging for leftovers.

They are not strays, in the sense that they never did live in a home. They were born in the streets and that is where they live.

Some estimates put the country's street cat population at around 2 million -- that's almost one-quarter of the country's human population.

A number of municipalities, most notably that of Tel Aviv, make efforts to capture, then spay and neuter these furry friends, as do non-profit animal rights groups. But the climate here allows cats to reproduce twice a year, sometimes thrice, resulting in a feline fiesta.

This being Israel, the land not just of heat but also of heated debate, the issue of feeding street cats has turned into something of a controversy among some neighbors, and has even led to lawsuits on occasion.

Nonetheless, many compassionate Israelis can’t stand to see the sight of hugely pregnant females with sticklike legs staggering the streets and the pitiful mewls of their kits dejectedly scouring the trash for food, and take it upon themselves to feed them. Some sprinkle trails of dry cat food on the sidewalks or streets while others leave tasty leftovers from their dinner and bowls of water outside.

Not all neighbors share in the joy of giving: Some feel the cats and their feeders "cause dirt," create a noise nuisance and the like. Feeders are unrepentant and many stores will give discount prices for bulk 20-kilogram bags of cat nuggets.  Whatever the dining choices, as far as the furry felines are concerned, these animal lovers are the cat's meow.

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A street cat feeding station in Jaffa. Credit: Limor Edrey
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Dry food is placed in small piles for each cat to eat separately, lest they fight over the repast.Credit: Yoram Tebol
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A protest outside the Haifa court hearing Neighbors vs. cat feeder Tania Kagan, 2010. The sign reads: 'A ruling against Tania is a death sentence for street cats.'Credit: Moran Maayan

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