Street Cats in Tzfat: Who's Taking Care of Our Feline Friends?

Updated: Mar 4

Cover art by Sarah Gittel Blumenthal

When the corona virus lockdown hit, the Tzfat municipality was featured on national news, highlighting their commitment to help feed the street cats who had suddenly been left without their normal sources of food. The city set up feeding stations, two in Ibikur and one in Cana’an, and put out food for them during the first lockdown and the municipality received accolades for their efforts from around the country.

Now that things have settled down a bit, the issue of neglected street cats may not be uppermost in the minds of the city or of many of its residents but the problem has not gone away. Many are asking why more isn’t being done to alleviate the suffering of Tzfat’s cats. The feeding stations have been left to the neighbors and the thrice-yearly mating season means that the city is, once again, overwhelmed by hungry strays.

Tzfat is blessed to have a number of special souls who make “tzar ba’alei haim” – preventing animal suffering – a priority. B., who lives in the Darom, started by taking in abandoned kittens. Over the years, she has rescued and taken care of hundreds of cats. The effort is overwhelming but B. and her family are committed to doing everything that they can for these innocent creatures. B. hand-feeds abandoned kittens, ensures that the cats have proper food and veterinary care as they grow and is active in adopting them out to good homes whenever possible.

Leora Mendel lives in the Old City. Although she herself struggles with health issues, she keeps an open house for neighborhood strays who often become her personal pets. She is known as a person who can’t say “no” and is often called out to help rescue abandoned newborns and helpless strays. Many of these kittens end up in her house. She frequently takes these strays to the vet for veterinary care and pays for it out of her own pocket, even though she lives on a pension.

Kathleen Wasserman is a local artist who buys 18 kilo of food a week to feed 20 cats on her porch plus another few dozen on the streets near her house. A water bowl is always outside her door as is a bowl of food for hungry cats and she too takes many sick cats to the vet for care which she pays for herself.

Meirav Ronen works daily to tend to the needs of cats all over the city. Her name has become well-known among those who care for cats in the town and she’s often called upon to help find foster and adoptive families for abandoned cats, get cats to the veterinarian for medical help and, of course, find ways to get food and water to street cats. In addition to working full-time she devotes numerous hours every day taking care of Tzfat’s cats.

Zev lives outside of Tzfat and works in the city. Every day he walks into and out of the city, feeding close to 50 cats at feeding stations that he has established. He has taken it upon himself to buy more than 20 kilos of cat feed every week and he distributes it as he walks, often lacing the food with medicines for those cats who have eye infections or other medical problems. Zev and his wife have also rescued numerous cats near their home. The expenses have cut deeply into their small income and they have even had their credit cards cut off due to the expenses of their chessed – yet they continue.

These stories are only the tip of the iceberg….there are many good-hearted people in Tzfat who take the mitzvah of tzar ba’alei chaim to heart by doing whatever they can. Over and over however, the one sentiment that they, and other concerned Tzfat residents, express is that the situation is overwhelming. None of these people are wealthy. Yet they dedicate their resources to the most vulnerable among us. As one beautiful soul wrote, “Between our bill's for the vet and the rescues + meds we're living on fumes. We've had our credit card cut off.

We rescue without the happy ending. We've learned how to be careful but my husband constantly comes home and tells me about a sick cat he feeds; one with an eye infection, another with an abscess, one who's eye is out of its socket, one limping, abandoned kittens. Cats here have to root through the garbage for food, they don't have fresh water. They're dehydrated, weak from malnutrition They're not vaccinated. All this adds up to dirty cats with compromised immune systems. People see they're dirty and that's it. They need vaccinations, TNR and a little kindness and sweet talk.”

Several months ago the municipality acknowledged the importance of caring for city cats. The need has never been greater to continue that care. A city spokesperson said that the city is waiting for a government grant to allow them to expand veterinary care for local strays. They have already built two new dog parks (Ibikur and Nof Kinneret) in their commitment to the betterment of the animal population of Tzfat.

We call upon both the municipality and local residents to join together to help care for our city’s cats.

Laurie owns and manages tzimmers in the Artists Quarter and manages the website. She is a community activist who has lived in Tzfat since 1985.

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