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Galilee Diary: Cats

Galilee Diary: Cats

by Marc Rosenstein
(Originally published in Galilee Diary and Ten Minutes of Torah)

Therefore the lion will strike them from the forest, the wolf will attack them from the plains, the leopard watches over their cities - and will devour anyone who comes out, on account of their many sins, their overwhelming iniquity.
-Jeremiah 5:6

In most communities and cities in Israel, one takes one's household garbage out to the street and dumps it into a covered dumpster - usually green, usually steel with plastic doors in a lid that slides back when the truck comes to lift and dump the container. These containers are treated roughly, especially by the lift mechanisms of the collecting trucks, so their plastic doors are often broken off, or the seals and/or bearings on their sliding lids are non-functional. Hence, they are usually open for the easy entrance and exit of the feral cats that live around them. I was reminded of this particular ecosystem recently when I noticed one of Shorashim's feral felines watching over two new kittens. Tourists who have the chance to leave the tourist routes and hotels and visit a home, anywhere in the country, often comment on the ubiquitous cats. In suburban America we had raccoons who rummaged in the garbage; in New York city I knew there were rats and mice, though I rarely encountered them. In Israel, there is no place without cats. And despite a sporadic effort by the county to bait and sterilize them (killing is not allowed), they are a constant (and I think constantly increasing) presence here on Shorashim. I do not know if they are as prevalent in other warm countries or if their presence is related to the degree of development. But for those of us whose world of experience is primarily North America and Israel, the association of alley cats with Israel is quite strong.

It is interesting to consider their place in the fabric of life here.

• As far as I can tell, they are not mentioned in the Bible, unless you count lions and leopards.

• Many people on Shorashim have dogs. Some dogs are driven crazy by the cats' brazen presence on and around the garbage dumpsters; others, like ours in his later years, simply ignore them. It was weird walking him past the dumpsters where a line-up of cats sat and lay staring at us with sullen indifference.

• Sometimes it feels like living in a cartoon, when I toss a bag of garbage in one door and several cats come flying out the other openings.

• Occasionally the feral cats seek greener pastures away from the communal dumpsters, and take up residence near houses, either befriending or terrorizing the domestic cats living there. For a few years there was one we called Sumo cat (you can guess why) who hid in the bushes by our sliding back door, and if you left the door open even an inch, while you stepped out to dump the compost, s/he would manage to get in and lick our cat's dish clean.

• Research shows that even cats that are well-fed retain the instinct to hunt, and that feral cats have a negative impact on the populations of birds, lizards, mice, and snakes. I admit to a degree of prejudice against mice and snakes, but in general, the multiplication of feral cats can't be good for the ecological balance of our area.

• Sometimes people take pity on them and adopt. Our daughter brought home an abandoned feral kitten. It is soft and pretty, but the short temper that seems to be in its genes makes it far from an ideal pet.

The zoologists tell us to sterilize them and seal the food supplies. Sounds like a plan, but there is probably not a municipality in the country that has the resources to maintain the garbage dumpsters at the required level, not to mention to sponsor sufficient neutering campaigns.

The mighty lion is extinct in Israel, and the majestic leopard is very close to extinction, but their annoying little cousin seems to be here to stay.

Published: 9/15/2009

Categories: Reform Judaism, Israel
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