One of the Most Ancient Dog Breeds May Face Extinction as Israeli Kennel to Be Evicted

The owner of the kennel specializing in the Canaan dog says it would be difficult to find a replacement site and the court order threatens the breed.

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Cnaan dogs at Shiboleth's kennel, last week.
Cnaan dogs at Shiboleth's kennel, last week. Credit: Olivieh Fitoussi
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The only kennel in the world specializing in raising Israel’s national dog breed, the Canaan, has been ordered to vacate the premises west of Jerusalem out of which it has operated since 1970. The eviction order was issued by Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court at the request of the Israel Land Authority.

The owner of the kennel, United States-born Myrna Shiboleth, a world expert in the Canaan dog, has been working to promote the survival of the breed, thought to be one of the oldest of dog breeds. The walls of her home are studded with dozens of trophies that she and her kennel have won at dog shows around the world.

The kennel’s eviction is liable to endanger the survival of the Canaan, she claims.

Although there are other kennels that breed the dog, hers is the only one to specialize in the breed. Underlining what she deems the special nature of the Canaan, she said it is an original, “natural” breed whose DNA has been maintained as it was before domestication by humans, unlike breeds that have been developed in recent centuries, which she said have produced dogs that suffer from a range of medical and genetic problems.

Myrna Shiboleth with her dogs, at the Sha'ar Hagai kennel, last week.
Myrna Shiboleth with her dogs, at the Sha'ar Hagai kennel, last week.Credit: Olivieh Fitoussi

The Canaan dogs that Shiboleth breeds are among the oldest natural breeds in the world and the only dog whose origins can be traced to the Middle East. It might also be argued that the breed was the first adopted by human beings and that it is referred to in the Bible. The Canaan line has been maintained over the generations because the canines were used as guard dogs at tent encampments of nomadic Bedouin around the Middle East. Some of the breed can still be found living in the wild.

It is considered the ideal guard dog, tough in appearance but not aggressive. But like other rare breeds, it is threatened by the small gene pool of the dogs that remain.

Shiboleth’s kennel at Sha’ar Hagai is on a site off the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway that got its start during the period of the British Mandate. Shiboleth settled there in the 1970s specifically to set up a Canaan dog kennel. For the next 17 years, she lived there with her family without electricity or running water and raised hundreds of Canaan dogs, a population that became a significant portion of all the breed. Over time, some other families joined her at the site in buildings that were already there.

Seven families currently live there, including the family of Shiboleth’s daughter. Initially the families rented their homes from the Mekorot water company, which was the successor to the British Mandatory water company at the site. It turned out, however, that the Israel Land Authority, or as it was previously known, the Israel Land Administration, owned the land.

About four years ago, the ILA sued Shiboleth and the other residents on the site, demanding that they vacate the premises. About a week and a half ago, Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Dorit Feinstein granted the request and ordered Shiboth and the 13 other occupants, and the kennel, to leave within 90 days.

For her part, however, Shiboleth says the Canaan dog should be seen as an Israeli natural asset and contends that the government should invest in the preservation of the breed for coming generations, just as it invests in protection of other natural assets.

In recent weeks she has appealed to the public for financial assistance through a crowdfunding website. Contributors have so far donated more than $13,000 to fund an appeal of the eviction order.

“I have no pension, and no savings. I just want a place to establish the kennel and it’s very hard to find such a place because no one wants a kennel nearby,” she said. “I don’t want to think about the possibility that I will have to leave.”