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‘Scrambling every day’: Stray cats struggle to survive in Jerusalem

In a holy city revered by three faiths, there are many traditions that date back thousands of years. But one of the more modern rites, adopted by visitors and locals alike, is feeding Jerusalem’s army of stray cats.

The title is unofficial, but Tova Shaul is the chief cat caretaker in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Carrying a pot filled with cat food, she heads out to a quiet park in the Jewish Quarter twice a day. The local feline population hears her apartment door shut and meows start to fill the air.

Jerusalem, and other cities right across Israel, face a growing problem: there’s simply not enough room to swing a cat. And the country is now only beginning to deal with the problem of overcrowding.

Shaul fed more than a dozen cats — a few calicos and a tabby among them — on a recent afternoon.

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Tova Shaul, the unofficial cat caretaker of Jerusalem’s Old City, feeds stray cats in the Jewish Quarter twice daily. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

Cats are “the lowest on the totem pole here. They’re the least cared about,” she said. “They’re very vulnerable and yet they’re scrambling every day on the street to survive.”

Shaul says she often finds and nurses newborn kittens that don’t make it, or older cats that are sick and often die.

Still, given the difficulties feral cats face here, the warm climate means a female cat may have up to three litters a year. Food is plentiful in the open dumpsters that line Jerusalem’s streets.

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A cat sits atop a wall in Jerusalem’s Old City. Animal advocates estimate that there are two million feral cats in Israel.

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