Ofir Ben Hamo has volunteered for over two years at the Beit She’an dog shelter. Visits by him and other activists to animals in the shelter that serves the town aroused suspicions that something not right was going on there.
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They saw that the shelter was full on one visit and nearly empty the next, sometimes just a few days later. This kept repeating itself, says Ben Hamo, founder of Beit She’an Loves Animals. Last month, they went to the shelter’s backyard to find answers.
“Everything is green and flowering after the rains, and we saw a bare spot on the ground, as if a tractor had been working there,” recalls Ben Hamo. “We wondered what a tractor was doing digging a hole there? We decided to go home and bring digging tools.” After 90 minutes they discovered the remains of nine dogs that had been in the shelter just days before.
The story was publicized in the media, and the Beit She’an municipality initially stated that the nine dogs had been sick and were put to death, but were brought to a proper burial place. Later, however, the city stated, “The remains that were found, according to the municipal veterinarian, do not belong at all to dogs.”
Last week, the city veterinarian, Dr. Leon David, insisted that the dogs that had been put to death were ill, but admitted at a special hearing of the Knesset’s subcommittee for cruelty to animals that they were buried in the backyard.
“True, it is not right and illegal to put them where we did, but there’s nothing that can be done. They were dogs full of viruses. They needed to go,” he explained. “You have to pay to take them to a place to destroy them.”
The Agriculture Ministry recently ordered the shelter closed, but euthanizing dogs, often healthy ones, continues across Israel. It is done mostly in secret, without proper documentation and without almost any state supervision.
The laws permit putting to death not only sick or presumably dangerous animals but also healthy dogs that were abandoned and have no one to adopt them. The data on euthanizing dogs is very spotty, as the shelters need not report these actions. Animal rights organizations and doctors estimate that tens of thousands of dogs, mostly healthy, are put to sleep annually. The Agriculture Ministry puts the number lower, at 5,500 at most.
Ahead of Animal Rights Day, which will be marked Tuesday in the Knesset, MKs Yael German (Yesh Atid) and Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union) submitted a bill to ban euthanizing healthy dogs in Israel. Sixty MKs endorsed it. The only parties with no one endorsing the bill were UTJ and Habayit Hayehudi, the party of Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, who is responsible for implementing the law against cruelty to animals.
“Our demand is very clear: stopping the industry of putting animals to death,” said Shumli. “It is outrageous and very disappointing that the Agriculture Ministry trusted with the welfare of animals... knocked down in committee this week all the bills meant to promote it.”
German added that there can be no acquiescence to the killing of animals for economic reasons. “While I was mayor of Herzliya for 15 years, barely any dogs were put to death, and we did it by cooperating with the Herzliya Loves Animals organization that worked on dog adoptions,” she said. “There is no reason the local authorities can’t operate the same way.”
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) proposed a similar bill in July, but it went nowhere without the support of the Agriculture Ministry. She said ministry politicians and bureaucrats supported the bill but the ministry opposed it on economic grounds. “The struggle for animal rights is at the point where we need to be clear that we don’t kill without reason, no matter what the cost,” she said.
The ministry estimated it would cost hundreds of millions of shekels to expand shelters for a projected 25,000 dogs a year, 365 million shekels ($94 million) to keep the dogs and another 22 million shekels for neutering, spaying, vaccinations and medical treatments.