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Jerusalem pet shelter under threat

By CNN's Jerrold Kessel

CNN's Jerrold Kessel
CNN's Jerrold Kessel

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Jerusalem's only animal shelter is under threat from a lack of funds and its unenviable position near a battle line in the northeastern outskirts of the city.

The privately funded, Israeli-run shelter is home to 280 charges -- 180 dogs and 100 cats.

They include Buglo, who was left with a bag of food and a note that read: "My family is in economic distress. Please adopt me."

But Buglo's home, and that of the other four-legged strays and outcasts, is in danger of being closed because it's too close an Israeli military checkpoint that blocks Jerusalem from Ramallah on the West Bank.

Veterinarian Hilik Marom, who runs the refuge with his wife, Ora Lis, told CNN: "I don't mind having this place under Palestinian Authority.

"This is not the question. The question is whether the dog in the middle of the conflict between two different people arguing over a piece of land should really pay the price for that."

Though located in the eastern part of the city, annexed by Israel in 1967, the shelter used to be a kind of bridge across political divisions, with Jews and Arabs bringing in and adopting strays.

But two years of bitter conflict have stopped that. There is no longer interaction between the shelter and the city's public, and that in turn leads to financial problems.

Marom said: "It's hard for them now crossing the IDF (Israel Defense Force) barriers. It's unsafe for them. For us its unsafe to have visits if there is shooting."

Instead of strays being brought in, unwanted pets are often dumped in the streets.

"It's dangerous," says Lis, just after driving through a checkpoint on a roundabout way from central Jerusalem

"Sometimes I'm afraid but when you're used to doing (it) you stop thinking about it."

Asked why do it in the first place, she replies: "Someone has to go. The difficulty is to find a home for the animals."

To try to overcome their budgetary shortfall, the SPCA now runs a round-the-clock clinic in an Israeli neighborhood instead of the clinic that used to function at Marom and Lis's shelter.

There is an ongoing battle with the Jerusalem authorities for the right to relocate the shelter to a place where human disputes won't get in the way of its prime purpose -- caring for the animals.

Meanwhile, like proper parents, neither Marom nor Lis radiate distress to their charges, leaving the doors open on the animals' cages.

Marom said: "We consider this a sanctuary. Unfortunately some of the dogs are going to be here for the rest of their lives and to keep them in cages is cruelty."

The shelter also operates a "no-kill policy." The only animal that will be put down is one that is desperately ill.

It is a policy that seems faintly unworldly in a place so close to a battle zone.

But idealism has its practical limits. As Marom prepares to set off home he dons distinctly strange garb for a vet -- body armour and a pistol.

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