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Among the complaints piling up at police stations, those dealing with abusive treatment of animals are not usually accorded high priority. In recent years, the one who has often kept these complaints from being forgotten and neglected has been the police staff officer whose position is financed by an animal welfare fund operated by the Environmental Protection Ministry.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the work of this officer and the support of the Environmental Protection Ministry are responsible for the fact that the Animal Protection Law has been enforced rather than remaining on the books only. In recent months, however, this is no longer true: The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has halted it.

The Agriculture Ministry is the official body assigned to enforce the Animal Protection Law. Salient examples of its ineffectiveness include its almost complete failure to address complaints of animal cruelty and its ongoing attempt to legalize force-feeding of geese instead of taking action against this practice, which is clearly abusive. Recent news reports about municipal veterinarians suspected of severe neglect of the animals in their pounds only illustrates the need for determined enforcement.

Agriculture Ministry officials, and particularly the heads of the Veterinary Services, were unwilling to accept the infringement of their authority represented by the cooperation between the Environmental Protection Ministry and the police. In particular, they were unwilling to accept a police investigation of the municipal veterinarians who were accused of animal abuse.

About six months ago, after the Agriculture Ministry complained to the attorney general of infringement of authority and disturbance of the veterinarians' work, the Environmental Protection Ministry was directed to stop funding the activity of the police officer.

The Attorney General's Office also decided to formulate new guidelines for investigating veterinarians employed by local authorities. These veterinarians already are immune from prosecution for actions they take to prevent the spread of diseases that endanger public health, but the Agriculture Ministry does not want to make do with this. It is demanding control of investigative measures against municipal veterinarians and responsibility for investigating any criminal allegations against them.

The ministry claims this is a matter of professional supervision of investigative procedures and that the Veterinary Services is the body most suited for this task. In practice, however, it amounts to a sort of immunity.

Instead of mobilizing for the active and systematic protection of animals that are subject to exploitation and cruelty in so many cases, the Agriculture Ministry is mainly engaged in protecting the authority that it fails to exercise in any case, or in covering up for veterinarians who have needlessly mistreated animals.

If the ministry wants to implement the provisions of the Animal Protection Law, it must prove it is worthy of doing so. This could be done by actively addressing the complaints submitted to the police, whether via a special officer (as done by the Environmental Protection Ministry) or another means proposed by the ministry. It must prove that it protects veterinarians when they deserve protection and that it protects public health, helping to punish those who cause suffering to animals without justification.

If the Agriculture Ministry does not intend to change its lax policy toward enforcing the Animal Protection Law, it should not disturb those who help the police to enforce it. The courts have issued several rulings in support of stronger protection for animals. Animal protection associations have enhanced their activity, particularly in influencing the decision to halt the force-feeding of geese. Together with the Environmental Protection Ministry, they improved the situation for animals in Israel slightly, and should be given the opportunity to continue to do so.