The feral cats of Israel are very visible. When I was there about 12 years ago I immediately noticed them scuttling around the alleyways. It was sad to see. You don't see feral cats in the UK. They are there but you don't see them. There must be more of them in Israel because of the warmer weather.
There are four major players in the feral cat story of Israel. They are pulling in different directions. Although things are changing.
The Public: The cat as a companion animal is not highly valued we are told. The cat is not kept as a companion animal to the same levels that you find in the UK and USA or Europe. On the basis that that is correct it informs us about the underlying, general attitude of the Israelis towards the domestic and feral cat.
For decades feral cats were simply rounded up and killed because they were considered to be a health hazard (rabies) and a nuisance. This did not resolve the feral cat problem. The feral cat population remained stable (moral: killing feral cats does not work - take note people in the United States who want to kill feral cats).
Obviously there are responsible cat lovers in Israel. But there are also careless ones; one reason why the feral population remains stable after years of slaughter.
Ministry of Environment: these are the humane government employees. For some people they would be considered the more sensible and enlightened too. They support TNR and animal rights. This ministry has also issued guidelines on feeding feral and stray cats and how to deal with cat colonies. I wonder if these guidelines conflict with those of the Ministry of Agriculture?
Ministry of Agriculture: this part of government tends to prefer killing as a means of feral cat control. It appears to be a discredited method although they would argue that in keeping the population stable they have prevented it rising. Apparently the ministry's vets don't understand TNR or want to get involved in it or in publicly funded sterilisation programs. They have issued a procedure that instructs people how to deal with feral cats in relation to trapping, feeding and euthanasia. I have not seen the document but it appears to favour killing. Poisoning feral cats, however, is a crime under existing Israeli legislation (para 4 of the Animal Welfare Law, 1999). People still trap and kill feral cats.
The Court: the Supreme Court has stepped in. They appear to have decided that the Ministry of Agriculture procedures are unacceptably harsh and cruel in promoting the large scale killing of feral and stray cats. They may even have been in breach of the animal welfare laws of the country - I don't know. The court declared that non-lethal solutions are preferable. This must include TNR, the best known non-lethal method. The court also wished to refine rules governing the control of rabies.
As a result of the court's declaration a committee has been set up bringing together parties from "Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Environment and Interior, local authorities, veterinarians and representatives of animal welfare organizations" to find common ground and a better and more humane way to deal with the feral cats of Israel.
Note: Israel has an increasingly enlightened attitude to animal welfare demonstrated by making declawing illegal.
Sources: The Welfare of Cats edited by Irene Rochlitz and The Ministry of Environmental Protection, State of Israel - Cat Welfare.
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