The only kennel in the world that breeds the Canaan dog, native to Israel, is facing eviction. The move by the Israel Land Administration could thwart efforts to preserve one of the world's most ancient breeds, says Myrna Shiboleth, founder and manager of the dog breeding farm in Sha'ar Hagai in the Jerusalem corridor.
The Canaan dog is one of the few remaining, rapidly disappearing breeds of feral dogs. It is recognized as Israel's national breed and believed to be mentioned several times in the Bible.
"All the Canaan dogs in the world are descendants of Israeli dogs," says Shiboleth, a world champion dog breeder, who founded the kennel in 1970 in derelict buildings in Sha'ar Hagai, along the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. "We were looking for a place to breed dogs, that wouldn't be in anyone's way. This place was abandoned, the buildings half-wrecked. It seemed ideal," says Shiboleth. The group signed a lease for the land with Mekorot, Israel's National Water Company, in 1970.
"We renovated the place ourselves and ran it, although we had no electric power and telephone for 17 years," she says.
Ten years later, in 1980, Mekorot refused to extend the lease and demanded the evacuation of the farm. When Shiboleth refused, the company sued her in Jerusalem's Magistrate Court.
At the court hearing it emerged that the Israel Land Administration and not Mekorot was the owner of the land. In 1982 the kennel managers asked the ILA to sign a lease with them, to enable them to remain at the site legally. Over the next 30 years, they made the request several times to the ILA and other authorities, but received no response. No one asked them for rent or requested they leave the premises, says Shiboleth.
In March 2011 ILA filed an eviction suit against the kennel, claiming its tenants were living illegally in an area declared a national park in 1965.
"ILA, for various reasons, remained quiet, but now it's time to make order," ILA attorney Shmuel Karniel told the court at a hearing last month.
Before the hearing, the kennel's attorney, Jacob Amster, asked ILA director Bentzi Lieberman to find a solution to enable the farm to continue operating.
"It's the only farm of its kind in the world and Mrs. Shiboleth has received more than 100 awards, trophies and medals from international dog shows and contests. She has represented Israel and turned the thoroughbred Canaan dog into an original Israeli brand name," he wrote.
ILA also refused a mediation procedure intended to reach an arrangement with the kennels.
"For 42 years people have been living and working here, begging for a lease, asking to pay ILA, the National Parks Authority, Mekorot - everyone. Each authority said it wasn't responsible," says Amster.
"The [authorities] paved a road to the farm, connected the farm to the power line and water system, arranged transportation for the children to school, charged them taxes, and suddenly someone decides to evict them. It's painfully obtuse," he says.
The ILA commented, "as far as the administration is aware, no property rights were ever given the tenants in the historic British-Mandate buildings. Since the ILA has allocated the area to the Jerusalem municipality, with the intention of passing it on to Mekorot, the issue fell between the cracks. In 2011 the ILA filed an eviction suit, which is in process in the Magistrate's Court." Shiboleth is collecting signatures on an online petition in the hope of keeping the farm going. She says the Canaan dog, one of the oldest breeds known to man, should be a source of national pride.
"These are dogs with a very specific character, extremely loyal, excellent guard dogs. They alert you to anything out of the ordinary and do not attack for no reason.
"The Canaan dog blood lines can only be renewed here. A few hundred of them still live in the wild, in the Tel Arad and Masada area and south of Mitzpeh Ramon, but they are disappearing fast," says Shiboleth,
"It's necessary to collect as many as possible to preserve a broad genetic diversity, to prevent genetic deterioration," she says.