They watch you silently in the night; they go though your trash bags; their screaming is the stuff of nightmares, and in Jerusalem the damn things are everywhere...cats ! Ok, it's not Iranian nukes, or Hamas rockets, but feral cats are an issue all over Israel and no more so than in Jerusalem and now it seems, they may be a far bigger problem than we ever imagined!
First, let me explain I am truly someone who loves animals, although cats would not be top of my list. Second, for those readers from parts of the world where cats are occasionally seen poking around a lace curtain or sitting on a garden wall, in Jerusalem its a little different... the damn things are everywhere, literally in their 100,000s (if not more)! It's impossible to walk through my neighbourhood, aptly named Katamon, without seeing them: they're in the gardens, crossing the street, under the car and rummaging in trash cans. Most residents here recognize that, while not the ugliest of animal, these feral critters are essentially vermin. I say 'most people', because on every street, as well as cats, there's the ubiquitous, often anonymous, "cat feeder". These people leave piles of leftovers and even cat food on walls everyday. This leads to healthier cats and healthier cats in Israel breed like rabbits!
So what? Better than rats right? Well perhaps not - a new study being widely reported in the UK media today shows that cats are infecting a thousand people a day in the UK alone with a dangerous parasite,called Toxoplasma. This charming microscopic life-form can cause birth defects, blindness and dementia and has been linked with schizophrenia and other psychotic disturbances (this might go a long way to explain Israeli driving habits!). The animals are the primary carriers of the parasite because they are the only animals within which it can actually reproduce. Humans, however, are most likely to become infected by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite from contaminated meat and vegetables (which the cats are finding in our Jerusalem trash cans) or direct contact with infected cat litter. Dr.Richard Holliman, a consultant medical biologist at St George’s Hospital in London, said: ‘Toxoplasma is more important, or as important, as salmonella and campylobacter, which affect a lot of people. Toxoplasma affects a few people but when it does affect them it can be devastating. A child born with congenital Toxoplasma is damaged for life!’.
Toxoplasma can cause birth defects, blindness and dementia and has been linked with schizophrenia and other psychotic disturbances.
So simply stop our kids from touching the pretty kitties? Sadly as you read this, little children in ganim (kindergartens) all over the country are playing in sand pits, left open and uncovered overnight and a favorite toilet for the feline disease carriers. Studies show they are rich in toxoplasma eggs if left unprotected! In the public park opposite my apartment, used by thousands of Jerusalem's kids weekly, there's a large sandy play area where this morning I saw three cats sitting, perhaps contemplating their morning defecation? My wife runs a gan and she's been concerned about this for years. She's meticulous about covering her sand pit at night with a tight tarpaulin, but even though I'm told this is actually the law (?) in Israel, she appears to be the exception.
At the risk of sounding like a 'grumpy old man' , this is an issue that needs to be being taken very seriously by the government and the Israel environmental ministry led by MK Gilad Erdan and also the town & city authorities across Israel. I'm not in anyway pretending to be an expert on this, but here's some common sense suggestions:
1. Cull (emotive I know, but its a serious health issue!)
2. replace trash cans with broken lids to reduce cats getting in & feeding
4. make it an offence to feed feral cats and back it up with a hefty fine
6. remove sandpits from public play areas - they're unhealthy for a variety of reasons, this being just one.
8. Make it illegal for Ganim to have uncovered sand pits.
9. .... yes...cull!!!
10. Thoroughly wash vegetables if they are to be eaten raw & the official advice in UK to pregnant women and immune-compromised patients is to cook all meat well and not to eat it rare.
I'm expecting the Israel Cat Lovers' Society (yes, its real!) to blacklist me after this blog but thats ok, because I'm a dog lover anyway!