“There shall be a great outcry in the entire land of Egypt, such as there has never been and such as there shall never be again. But against all the Children of Israel, no dog shall whet its tongue, against neither man nor beast, so that you shall know that the Lord will have differentiated between Egypt and Israel” (Exodus, 11:6-7)

According to biblical commentators, on the night the Egyptian firstborn were dying in the tenth and final plague, the dogs in the land of Egypt refrained from making noise against the Jews. The fact that there were no dogs barking, despite the presence of the Angel of Death, allowed the Jewish people to feel safe and secure in their trust in G-d and in their upcoming redemption.

In our times, in the Land of Israel and specifically in Judea and Samaria, there is once again a greater sense of security due to the presence of dogs. Thanks to an organization called Defenders of the Land there are currently 70 anti-terror security guard dogs stationed in communities throughout Judea and Samaria, including several in the Negev and Galilee, who are bred and professionally trained to protect the Jewish residents of those areas against infiltration and attack.

According to Kfar Tapuah resident Yekutiel “Mike” Ben- Ya’akov, who founded the organization nearly 13 years ago, and remains its director today, he saw the need for a four-legged security force as communities in Judea and Samaria were repeatedly bearing the brunt of many deadly attacks at the start of the second intifada.

“I was frustrated reading about the terror,” says Ben- Ya’akov. “I realized that the army couldn’t be everywhere, so I thought of ways to make our citizens safer.”

After reading a feature story in a Hebrew daily on the role of dogs in the war against terror, both in the IDF’s Oketz canine unit as well as in the police force’s canine unit – for bomb sniffing, threat assessment, deterrence, etc., he decided to learn more.

Ben-Ya’akov hailed a taxi in Jerusalem, asking for a round-trip fare to Ramat Gan to attend a dog-training session led by a private construction company that was utilizing security dogs to keep trespassers off its properties.

When they arrived at the site, the cab driver, who unbeknownst to Ben-Ya’akov was an Arab, refused to exit his vehicle when seeing the assortment of dogs present.

It was then that Ben-Ya’akov understood that “Arabs are superstitious against dogs and view them as impure animals.

Therefore I recognized that we can use dogs to save lives by thwarting Arab attacks.”

Learning more and more about the nature of dogs, and what it would take to start a guard-dog program, private funds were raised and three Dutch Shepherd dogs were purchased in Holland and flown to Israel. After the dogs became acclimated to their surroundings, a two-week pilot course was offered in Kfar Tapuah for residents and other volunteers interested in learning how to handle the dogs, and use them for security patrols.

While unsure of how successful the program would be, literally the night before the course was slated to begin, terrorists attacked Kfar Tapuah via the main gate. With the army pinned down and unable to identify the source of the gunfire, one of the dogs slated to be used in the course was called into duty, and together with his handler successfully determined the shooters’ location. The army was then able to apprehend the suspects, possibly saving many lives.

According to Ben-Ya’akov, following that incident and after the successful pilot program, over 300 dogs have been trained and deployed for security purposes, which he says have saved a countless number of lives. He even credits one such dog, named David, for saving his life on Rosh Hashanah in 2011.

When Ben-Ya’akov led David along with a group of mainly youngsters from Kfar Tapuah to a nearby stream to partake in the traditional “tashlich” prayers, they quickly became surrounded by a group of hundreds of rockthrowing Arabs.

“Just as we nearly became encircled, David broke away from my handle and began charging up the hill toward Tapuah, frightening the Arabs who had snuck up on us from behind. The dog had sensed a threat that we didn’t even see. He chased that group away, thus opening an escape route for us to flee home. I honestly feared that we were about to be the victims of a lynching, but David saved our lives.”

Ben-Ya’akov keeps a thick binder in his office with articles written in the press over the years describing how dogs have helped rescue Jews in danger.

In addition to the anti-terror dog training unit with its main kennel in Kfar Tapuah, the organization has also launched a Ma’aleh Adumim-based professional searchand- rescue dog unit.

These dogs are utilized to locate survivors under collapsed buildings or in searches for missing persons. Just a few months ago, one of these dogs helped locate a threeyear- old who had become separated from his family and gotten lost in the Har Adar forest.

Whether the dogs are trained to serve as protectors or for search and rescue, Ben-Ya’akov and his expert staff offer over 30 active training sessions a week, moving from community to community, working with handlers to make sure each and every dog is prepared to the best of its ability for assignment.

The training expenses, along with the breeding and maintenance of the dogs, including veterinary fees, vaccines, food, de-worming and more, runs between $2,000 – $3,000 per month. Ben-Ya’akov says that nearly his entire budget is dependent on private donations from Israel and abroad, and that his organization is currently not receiving any government subsidies.

While his days are always packed and working with animals is often tiring, Ben-Ya’akov is confident that his work is making a difference. His main objective and constant concern is making sure that both the dogs and their handlers are prepared for the worst-case scenario.

“While our dogs are brought in and counted on to respond to terror attempts, I want to start seeing more pro-active patrols to prevent the attacks from ever taking place,” he says.

The writer is a media expert, freelance journalist, and host of Reality Bytes Radio on www.israelnationalradio.com.

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