A howler? Israeli minister proposes deporting strays

Claws were out on Monday after an Israeli cabinet minister proposed sending stray dogs and cats to another country as an alternative to government-funded efforts to sterilize them.

“Use the budget to transfer stray dogs and/or cats of one gender (all the males or all the females) to a foreign nation that will agree to accept them,” Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel suggested in a letter to a cabinet colleague leaked to the mass circulation Yedioth Ahronoth daily.

The proposal, which a spokesman for Ariel said had been rejected after initial consultations within the Agriculture Ministry, was roundly criticized by animal rights activists and bemused opposition politicians.

“No way am I going to apply for a foreign passport for Pitzkeleh,” former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni tweeted above a photo showing the smiling Zionist Union party politician reclining on a sofa and feeding her cat.

The newspaper report said Ariel, a religious Jew and a member of the far-right Jewish Home party, views spaying and neutering as possible violations of God's directive “to be fruitful and multiply” and ritual law that prohibits animal cruelty.

But Zahava Galon, head of the opposition left-wing Meretz party, wrote on Facebook that Ariel's idea ran contrary to “basic morality” – and she quipped that it was time to find a country prepared to grant the minister shelter instead.

Emergency transport for pets in Israel

When Gaza rockets were raining down on southern and parts of central Israel in November, the staff at Terminal4Pets — located outside of firing range in Maccabim-Reut — told its clients that it would work out the logistics of boarding or evacuating their pets if they suddenly had to leave the country.

The eight-year-old pet travel agency, which shares a building with the clinic that spawned it, the House of Veterinary Doctors, is an Israel-based initiative that enables international travelers, including relocated diplomats and expatriates anywhere in the world, to transport their pets with the minimum amount of trauma to animal and owner.

At the start of the hostilities, Dr. Eytan Kreiner, the veterinarian who heads Terminal4Pets, wrote in a press release: “We understand that people are under a lot of stress and especially foreign diplomats and their families, and we wish to help them any way possible.” He urged people to spread the word that “we are here 24/7 for people and pets during these rough times.” That time, most clients stayed put.

While the agency has helped many owners during times of national or personal emergency, its specialty is providing logistical support for the types of “routine” pet transfers that keep many pet owners up at night worrying.

An airplane flight “is very traumatic for the pet and the owner, whether it’s a diplomat or a student spending a year abroad,” said Ayala Bar, the agency’s head of marketing.

Just as a traditional travel agent advises clients on whether they need a visa or vaccinations, Terminal4Pets helps owners navigate the bureaucratic and complicated process of pet flight and beyond.

When people transfer to another country with a cat or dog, Bar explained, they don’t necessarily know where the nearest clinic is or, as is the case in Israel, they need to register their animal’s microchip information with the Ministry of Agriculture.

The agency, which collaborates with professionals around the world when necessary, advises owners on which vaccinations are required and which ones are advisable, even if not mandatory.

“Their local vet doesn’t understand how difficult it will be for a dog that’s been based in Lapland to adjust here,” Bar said.

Whenever possible, the agency works with pet owners long before the flight.  

“We’ll have a long telephone conversation and ask a lot of details: the [dog’s] breed, its weight, its exact measurements and, especially if it’s a puppy, its kennel size, because the airlines are very strict,” Bar said.

The kennel (in-flight holder) must be large enough to accommodate a pet’s limited movement and include a pet diaper and a blanket.

Because the agency is connected with the clinic downstairs, a newly transferred pet can be assessed as soon as it arrives, if the owner requests it, Bar said.

Although the agency doesn’t board animals, it contracts with two companies that do. That’s especially important for owners who are in a country for a limited amount of time and have no one who can care for their animal for a few days or months at a time.

“Expats and diplomats often don’t have a support system,” Bar said. “Whereas other pet owners might ask their mother to mind their dog for a while, foreigners don’t have that option.”

Sometimes locals need help, too.

When Ziva Ben Shaul’s son, Micki, died suddenly in Florida, she wanted to adopt his cat, Mario. She contacted the agency, which in turn told Micki’s friends what vaccinations and documents the cat would need to fly to Israel.

Today, “Mario is with me,” Ben Shaul said. “His hind legs are paralyzed, but that doesn’t matter. Micki really loved Mario, and it does me good that he’s here with me.” 

Too cute: The Moscow Cats Theater

They climb a rope upside down. They scale a pole 15 feet high. They leap through an obstacle course.

It’s not boot camp at Camp Pendleton. It’s the Moscow Cats Theater, whose lead performers, 30 or so felines, are not deprived of sleep and not subjected to verbal abuse like Marines in basic training.

In town for five exclusive holiday engagements at the Wilshire Ebell Theater, these furry creatures are motivated solely by love. Yuri Kuklachev, the artistic director of the theater, cuddles, strokes and coos to his stars. In an e-mail translated from Russian, he says, “I never force a cat to do anything it doesn’t want to; it’s impossible. I play with them and observe their natural talents (climbing, jumping or tumbling) and build a repertoire around those talents that they enjoy so much.”

Kuklachev’s show, which had its American debut last year in New York at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, may not feature the poetry of T.S. Eliot, but, unlike “Cats,” the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, it does feature real live tabbies and other breeds.

Broken into nine segments, the Moscow Cats Theater performs numbers such as “Cat’s Kidnappers,” “Prince and Pauper,” and “Queen of the Cats,” the latter featuring his wife, Yelena, also a clown and member of the troupe. They hold joint Russian and Israeli citizenship.

For Kuklachev, the idea of working with cats began more than three decades ago when he discovered an ailing stray cat in the streets of Moscow. He washed its eyes with tea until it recovered. Not long after, he realized that he had found his calling. He could incorporate cats into his act as a clown. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he had studied for four years “at the clownery department” before graduating as a parodist acrobat clown.

To this day, his show is the only one of its kind in the world.

It is not like the circus where lions are tamed and ordered about the big top.

Kuklachev does not try to tame his cats.

As he says, “Cats are marvelous creatures that naturally possess the most basic human instinct of freedom to do whatever they please.”

Not only does he not try to tame them, he gives them free reign on the stage and in their accommodations. The cats do not live in cages; instead, they have their own minidressing rooms and they all live together in an apartment.

As for the cats’ reaction to stimuli like music (Tchaikovsky is often played), lights and applause, Kuklachev prepares his felines during rehearsals. “I always go through repetitions with loud music, and my human cast members clap during it, so for the cats it becomes second nature and doesn’t bother them one bit.”

So, why is it we care so much about these sphinx-like creatures with the Mona Lisa smiles?

Kuklachev suggest it is because they are very similar to homo sapiens. “Since Egyptian times, cats have been glorified as a mystical creature; maybe, this is due to their natural inclination to freedom and free will, the most basic human desire.”

The Moscow Cats Theater will perform at the Wilshire Ebell Theater, 4401 West Eighth St, on Friday, Nov. 24 at 7 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 26 at 1 p.m and 4 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 3 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Meow With a French Accent

Comic books aren’t just for kids anymore. In both the United States and France, they’ve been enjoying a popular explosion among readers of all ages.

One of the stars of the explosion in France is Joann Sfar, an enfant terrible whose work has become so popular, that it can be found on the bookshelves of hip intellectuals there.

The prolific Sfar, 33, at last count is the author of 40 different comic-book series, including the wildly popular “Little Vampire” and “Big Vampire.” But only two of them — “Dungeon” and “Little Vampire” — are available in English, and they have been aimed mainly at young adult readers.

This summer, however, Sfar’s profile in the English-speaking world is likely to be raised: The first volume of “The Rabbi’s Cat,” one of his best-loved series in France, will be released in English by Pantheon Books in August. Translations of “Big Vampire” and “The Tree Man” are in the works.

“The Rabbi’s Cat” chronicles the adventures of a talking cat, who lives in Algeria with a rabbi and his daughter. The first volume in the series recounts the cat’s desire to have a bar mitzvah. Along the way, it tells the story of how the cat learned to talk — he ate the parrot — and how he took on “the rabbi’s rabbi,” chiding his master’s teacher for his narrow, dogmatic approach to Judaism.

When asked about the abundance of Jewish themes and philosophy in his work, Sfar, who was born to an Ashkenazi mother from Ukraine and a Sephardi father from Algeria, says that for him, Judaism isn’t “an all-consuming passion” it’s just what he knows best. — Lauren Elkin, Jewish Telegraphic Agency