The organization Starting Over
a rehabilitative shelter that furthers animal rights
The rehabilitative shelter of the organization Starting Over was founded in 2017 by Sharon Cohen. The organization’s mission is to save and rehabilitate animals that are in distress and constitute a safe and secure space for the rest of their lives.
Orly Vilnai and Nitzan Meizles later founded the Herut Center within the shelter’s land, an educational center. As time passed, the organization became more and more aware of the tragic and unjust fate donkeys face, in Israel and worldwide. This propelled the organization to take action beyond saving and rehabilitating animals, such that Starting Over CR now operates as an association for animal rights as well.
The rehabilitative shelter:
Around 900 animals live in the shelter. They arrived from all over the country after experiencing torture, neglect or abandonment at the hands of people and the industry. In the shelter they undergo physical and mental rehabilitation and have a chance at a life of freedom, love, and peace - in essence, they can finally start over.
The Herut Center:
Our shelter is not only a place of refuge for animals, but for people, too. The Herut Center, which is also located in the shelter, is an educational center that was established by Orly Vilnai and Nitzan Meizles. It works to further education, advocates a love for animals, and raises public awareness of animal protection and their rights among children and teens. The Herut Center believes that cultivating these ethics among the youth will help build a unified, tolerant, and healthy society.
The Herut Center also creates a mutually rehabilitative relationship between the animals living in the shelter and the special populations that take part in it. The Center educates and empowers at-risk youth and vulnerable populations by integrating animal care and support, while encouraging and developing traits of responsibility, generosity, capability, teamwork, and leadership.
Starting Over CR:
The association grew from the rehabilitation shelter. Starting Over CR is an area of activity of the association that fights for animal rights, and its goal is to stop the abuse, enslavement, and trafficking of donkeys, and establish them as a protected species.
Sharon Cohen - Founder:
My connection with animals started long before the organization was founded. They have always been an inseparable part of my life, even as a child.
At 14, I started volunteering at SOS Pets, and it was there that I was exposed to the mass suffering of animals.
I was exposed to the existence of municipal kennels and to the bitter fates of dogs and cats, and more importantly, I was exposed to countless people that devote their entire lives to fighting for animal rights.
As a result, I was raised in the company of people that fight for people and for furthering their rights.
After my military service I started working as a responder in the Let the Animals Live organization’s call center.
It was there that I was exposed to even more awful circumstances of animals in Israel, and to dozens of more people that devote their lives to animals. There I learned that even in the face of evil, there are plenty of good people that care and that refuse to give up on any animal, even when it's hard. I learned to stand against authorities, even when it seemed like there was no chance of succeeding. It was there that I learned not to give up, and to speak on behalf of animals.
As the years went on, I was exposed to the change in consciousness among the public, and the strength of organizations that only continued to grow, whether it was in promoting legislation for animal rights, or whether it was seeing hard work that ultimately paid off.
Following my work and volunteering at animal welfare organizations, I was exposed to a serious lack of solutions for animals that need a home and medical care. Along with working and running veterinary clinics, I realized I could help them even more, and thus my home quickly became a small and private rehabilitation shelter - all while I was still living in Givatayim.
Dogs, cats, goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens - any animal that I could fit into my home. Even when it seemed as though there were an endless amount of unfortunate animals, I too, like many activists around me, could not ignore the situation and kept sacrificing more and more for them. Years went by and I moved to the Morasha neighborhood in Ramat HaSharon, and there I was sure that there would be room for everyone.
Until a single phone call changed my life - a phone call from a woman that begged me to save a foal (a young donkey) that was bound out in the open, despite the fact that it had been raining for five days straight. The night I arrived I was exposed to another harsh reality that I had not known about: the terrible circumstances of donkeys in Israel. The first day that I saved the small foal, Tinkerbell, I tried to find her a solution that was much more suitable than living in a private yard in Ramat HaSharon. I didn’t know that the task facing me would be so difficult, discouraging, and almost impossible. I quickly realized that Tinkerbell would stay with me forever, but I never would have imagined that from that day my life would change, and that thanks to this innocent little baby, tens of thousands of animals would be saved.
Following the publicity and the attempt to find her a home, I started getting inquiries from people who thought I was running a donkey shelter, even though until that day I had no connection to donkeys whatsoever. I could not ignore the requests and began to privately rescue donkeys in terrifying situations. This is how I was exposed to the fact that even in Israel, carts are still being dragged by donkeys, and these poor creatures were disproportionately sentenced to a life of suffering and hard labor until death.
In each rescue I appealed to the general public for help in covering the costs of medical treatment and rehabilitation of the donkeys.
I quickly realized that there are a lot of people who care and who just like me want to save this unfortunate animal from the harsh reality in which it finds itself.
From the very beginning I was amazed to discover the great mobilization of the public, and I realized that I could help many more animals and that I was not alone.
I decided to set up an association and move to a much larger place and that was also adapted for donkeys.
Today, the association is located in Moshav Herut and is home to about 900 animals, including over 500 donkeys, dozens of goats, sheep, horses, cows, winged animals, cats and dogs.
Along the way and on a case-by-case basis, the public has always helped and engaged - in rescues, rehabilitations, cost coverage and day-to-day maintenance of the organization.
You are the ones who made me dare to fight even harder for the animals, and look how far we’ve come! It's all thanks to you. Thanks!