If you’ve had the chance to visit Israel, chances are you’ve seen so many stray cats up and down the country. These cats were originally bought to Mandatory Palestine during the British Mandate to deal with the rat infestation at the time. Quickly, these cats started to reproduce, and their population has skyrocketed. Today, there are an estimated 2 million feral cats in the streets of Israel, with 240,000 of them in Jerusalem. This has become a massive problem.
Because of the warm climate, a female cat could have 3 litters (9-15 kittens) per year. Additionally, in major cities, cats have easy access to open dumpsters and garbage. But when that plan fails, they turn to hunting, which harms Israel’s nature. These cute, cuddly creatures, which are present in 370 million households worldwide, can also be predators for ordinary wildlife. If the population of their prey declines enough, it could dangerously create imbalances in the food chain and destroy crops.
Strays are also notoriously known for carrying diseases. One scratch on their bodies can turn into an abscess; a case of untreated herpes can cause the cat to go blind, and for male strays, cases of urinary tract infection can cause severe blockages along with slow and painful deaths.
Strays also threaten the well-being of pet cats. Maintaining a cat in Israel is already expensive enough—pet shops, veterinarians, and the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimate that basic routine care costs around 1,300 shekels ($387) per year. Costs can easily soar from add-ons like toys, high-grade sand, treats, injuries, and illnesses. Add on unexpected veterinary bills for fight wounds or illness, and the expense is simply too much for many families.
Despite such negative impacts, no long-term action has been taken to put a stop to the excessive reproduction of Israel’s stray population. Israel would need to sterilize 80% of strays within 6 months to control the population, which is incredibly difficult because the central government provides insufficient funding (4.6 million shekels/$1.4 million dollars) for sterilization annually to local governments. But the money goes nowhere and the population of the cats continue to increase. To meet all budgetary needs of local governments, Israel’s national government would need to double its funding. If strays keep reproducing at their current rate, they could surpass the Israeli population in a few years.
Even in small issues like this, there is division on whether Jewish law should be followed, as religious communities are pushing back against sterilization; and Jews are the first known people to have adopted animal cruelty laws.
If Israel wants to control its stray population, it must take a cat-first or wildlife-first approach. Whatever method is employed, something must be done.