'Give a Rottweiler Love, and He'll Turn Into a Poodle'

"I definitely lead a dog's life," quips Yovel Mendelovitch, 29, who rescues animals and raises 12 dogs (Amstaff, Rottweiler, pit bull, Argentine Dogo) in his own home in central Israel.

"That's what happens when your house becomes a shelter," he says, while being showered with kisses from Shushka, a massive pit bull exploited as a breeding dog for dog fighting, and Georgy. The latter, a spotted three-year-old Amstaff, was abandoned two years ago and was rehabilitated by Mendelovitch, who cured Georgy of anxiety fears.

In a tiny one-bedroom apartment, which includes a garden, Mendelovitch houses the dogs, five of whom live amicably together as a pack, freely wandering about the apartment and garden. The other seven live in spacious enclosures. Mendelovitch dreams of funding that will enable him to create a formal shelter.

"Ever since [4-year-old] Avivit Ganon died after an Amstaff fatally mauled her, a veritable witchhunt has been conducted against these animals," he says. "Many dog owners panic and abandon them, while others choose to breed them for dog fights or as guard dogs. The result - the dogs are abused while being trained to become cruel animals."

Eti Altman, founder and spokesperson of Let the Animals Live, adds that "many dogs are abandoned and undergo abuse, but our organization cannot hold them in enclosures because local residents break into the enclosures and steal the animals for dog fights."

The fate facing dogs defined by law as dangerous has turned Mendelovitch's home into the place for those seeking asylum for canines. "The telephone never stops ringing," says Mendelovitch. "I get calls in the middle of the night about abandoned dogs and I rush to bring them here."

"The dogs arrive here with traumas," he explains. "After they have been here for a while, I can identify their fears and begin to rehabilitate them, build their confidence, calm them down and give them much love and human warmth. After the dogs have been exposed over a period of time to a serene, secure, loving setting, they become as docile as poodles," he smiles.

Dogo, a huge Argentine Dogo, inhabits one of Mendelovitch's enclosures. One can still see the scars on his neck left by the collar his previous owner used. "This dog underwent horrible abuse," relates Mendelovitch. "He was cruelly tied with an iron wire closely wrapped around his neck.

"Initially, when I started feeding him, he would attack me," he recalls, smiling and displaying scratches and bites on his body. "However, now that he has become accustomed to his new living conditions and receives warmth and love, he has become pleasant and friendly."

Mendelovitch has gradually gathered around him several individuals who help with the expenses of caring for and feeding the dogs, and looking for resources for the private shelter. Sarit Garjy, who teaches animal care workshops at the Israel Prison Service, is one of Mendelovitch's volunteers, helping him care for the animals and find them loving homes.

"We advertise on the Internet, screening out hundreds of applicants. It is important for us that the rehabilitated dog find a warm home. We check out the people, visit their homes and ascertain that the dog will not be abused or abandoned again," she says. "You just can't pass laws and eliminate certain breeds," argues Mendelovitch. "You must allow people to raise these dogs, but, at the same time, you must monitor who is doing the breeding and what use is being made of the dogs. What is most important is to provide proper guidance for those who decide to raise one of these animals.

"Everything depends on who raises the dog," he emphasizes. "A German Shepherd has the potential of causing harm, but even a cat can cause injury and attack a baby. Regrettably, dogs are paying a heavy price and being put down because of the aggressiveness of dog-owners who don't know how to raise these animals."

During the entire interview, the five dogs who wander about the apartment rested comfortably on the laps of this writer and the Haaretz photographer, both of whom held their breath for several minutes until finally "surrendering" to the dogs, who demanded that we stroke their fur and then showered us with kisses.