A chance encounter with a stray changed Gail Joss’ life in ways she could never have imagined. Here she gives us an insight into her life fighting for the street cats of Israel.
Have you ever looked into the eyes of a cat and felt an instant connection? That is what happened to Gail Joss, founder of Chachi’s Haven — a cat shelter based in Israel — when she chanced upon a stray in a warehouse in South Africa where she worked with her father. Gail explains: “My relationship with cats just happened. I wasn’t allowed cats growing up, due to my mother being allergic.”
THE CAT WITH THE WHITE MOUSTACHE
“My dad took over a business short-term and needed someone he could trust to help him. The work was in a warehouse, and there was a lot of staff. One day, I noticed a cat on the grounds. When our eyes met, there was an immediate connection.
“Having no experience with cats, I presumed she was male because of her white moustache and called her Charlie (Charlie became Chachi when she had kittens). Chachi stole my heart — she was my angel, she changed my life, and that of thousands of stray cats,” says Gail.
Gail brought food and played with Chachi every day. However, one day she forgot to bring food for her and, after asking canteen workers for some food for Chachi, the plight of stray cats in the country became clear.
“I was told I was wasting my time and money as ‘we catch cats and eat them’. It was possibly the most obscene thing I had ever heard. It was at this moment that my life as I knew it ended and a new one began,” says Gail. “I immediately phoned a cat shelter, and, for a payment, they said they would send a trapper, the cats would be neutered, but, afterwards, it would be my responsibility to take care of them. I found a small cottage to rent, and that was the beginning of Chachi’s Haven.”
Over the years, Gail got more involved with trap, neuter, release (TNR) schemes, and rescuing and rehoming cats.
In 1996, Gail moved to Israel, with 29 cats in tow, when it became clear they had little chance of being rehomed in South Africa. Sadly, what was meant to be a positive move has brought a lot of pain and hardship on Gail. In Israel, a huge population of unwanted cats exists. Cats are considered vermin and treated with contempt. Sadly, those who work to help them, including Gail, are treated in the same manner.
“I made a huge mistake leaving South Africa. I had an amazing support system and an abundance of volunteers, but it was no longer a safe place to live. My dad was in Israel and made it sound nice — that has been far from the reality,” explains Gail.
“I volunteered at the Cat Welfare Society of Israel until I was ready to start my first coaching job. The owner of the shelter said to me: ‘Gail, if you are going to be involved in cat rescue in Israel, I am warning you that a prostitute will get more respect than you ever will.’ I honestly thought she was strange, but, unfortunately, it didn’t take long for me to realise how true her words were.” For 17 years Gail funded Chachi’s Haven herself, working long hours in multiple jobs. However, in 2013, due to serious ill health, Gail had to stop working and gets through by accepting help from well-wishers.
Chachi’s Haven, which became a registered charity in 2015, relies solely on donations. Gail, along with 150 abused and damaged cats, live in a warehouse in Telmond. She feeds a further 250 street cats, daily.
Walking the streets, whatever the weather, in the early hours of the morning to avoid abuse, Gail fills 28 feeding stations with cat food.
“Feeding the street cats is like going to war every day,” says Gail. “You sneak around like you are a criminal, hoping nobody sees you so they don’t try to harm you or the cats.”
As well as feeding the street cats, Gail spends her days cleaning, changing litter trays, doing laundry, treating sick cats, campaigning to raise animal welfare awareness, and running her TNR scheme, as well as trying to give the cats attention.
“So many of these cats had homes and were dumped when they became pregnant, or the owner moved or decided to go on holiday. To see the pain and confusion in their eyes breaks my heart. So many of the street cats need love as much as they need food,” explains Gail.
TRAP, NEUTER, RELEASE
Rules exist to protect street cats in Israel, but these are rarely enforced, and TNR funding is minimal.
“TNR is the best gift I can offer these cats. Once a cat has been through this scheme, its ear is clipped — it’s called an ‘ear tip’; it’s their badge of honour,” says Gail. “Some vets offer discounted prices, but I only work with vets who will let me sit in the surgery with the cats, to ensure it’s done humanely.”
Gail is determined to carry on devoting her life to the street cats of Israel. Despite the extremely hard work and abuse, sometimes physical, she receives on a daily basis, she can’t ever imagine leaving as it would mean leaving the cats.
“I set up Chachi’s Haven because I felt it was important to ensure a future for these cats,” she says. “However, without volunteers, the cats’ lives are totally dependent on mine — that terrifies me because of my health issues. I’ve tried several times to join up with other rescuers, but they are not interested.
“I will never stop trying to find people who are open to working together. Any support would be so greatly received. Finding committed people who are willing to help or volunteer is the only way to ensure the cats’ futures.”
This story was first published in the October 2018 issue of Your Cat Magazine. GET YOURS HERE.