Israel shuts down breeding grounds of country's unofficial national dog

With the historic Canaan dog breeding site recently demolished, what does the future have in store for the national Israeli friend walking on all fours?

Canaan dog - Israel's national dog breed - in Sweden (photo credit: MATILDA VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/CC BY-SA 3.0)
Canaan dog - Israel's national dog breed - in Sweden
The Israel Lands Authority has demolished the site that was home to the country’s unofficial national dog breed for the past four decades, marking an end to an era in Israeli history.
The Sha’ar Hagai kennel, located off Road 1 between Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem, housed Canaan dogs and other breeds, under the care of American- Israeli Myrna Shiboleth, for 46 years.
Although the ILA razed the property last week, the Sha’ar Hagai kennel actually closed in October after the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court rejected Shiboleth’s final appeal to remain at the site.
“They demolished not just my home, but a piece of the history of the establishment of the state, a historic building,” said Shiboleth.
The kennel became the focal point of an ILA case against Sha’ar Hagai residents in 2011, prompting a multiyear, government-sponsored lawsuit over land occupancy. Following a January 2016 eviction ruling, Shiboleth began searching for an alternative location for herself and her Canaan dogs, collies and Portuguese Podengos.
Unsuccessful, she eventually settled on relocating to Italy.
Shiboleth made aliya from Chicago in 1969 and settled in the ruins of Sha’ar Hagai. She came to Israel with the intent of breeding the Canaan dog, a species that is unofficially recognized as the country’s national breed and is believed to be mentioned several times in the Bible.
Upon arriving at Sha’ar Hagai, Shiboleth said she found an abandoned and overgrown site, where she spent the first several months without water and 17 years without electricity.
Initially, she said she signed a rental contract with the Mekorot national water company, which she understood to be the owner of the property. A decade later, when the government deemed the ILA the actual owner of the land, Shiboleth tried unsuccessfully to cement a similar rental agreement.
While the ILA has maintained that the State of Israel owns the land, Shiboleth previously told The Jerusalem Post that the authority simply ignored the existence of the kennel for 42 years. She described the eviction as nothing less than “total injustice.”
The ILA, on the other hand, accused the residents of being “trespassers who, in the 1970s, took over state lands and six historical buildings in Sha’ar Hagai, a national park in which residences were prohibited.”
Such activities, according to the authority, constitute a criminal offense.
“Leaving Sha’ar Hagai was terribly difficult mentally and emotionally, more than physically, which also was not easy,” Shiboleth wrote in a blog post on Sunday. “But in a way, knowing that the house was there, even if abandoned, left a slight modicum of hope that some day things might change. And even if I would never be able to return, maybe these historical buildings, part of the founding of the State of Israel’s story, would be made use of for a positive purpose, as a monument or museum or something to the advantage of the public.”
While Shiboleth continues to breed the Canaan dog in Italy, activists in Israel are working to preserve the animal’s legacy at home.
Orit Nevo, vice president of the Israel Kennel Club, is among those coordinating efforts to ensure the breed’s survival. “We have a national breed, the Canaan dog, and it’s the only breed of dogs from Israel,” she told the Post on Monday. “It has to do so much with who we are, the Israelis, the Hebrew culture.”
Nevo and her colleagues have two goals in mind: to gain official recognition for the Canaan dog as the country’s national breed and to secure a site in Israel to continue breeding the dogs.
The activists have approached the Agriculture Ministry about the recognition issue, but have yet to receive a response, said Nevo. International organizations the world over recognize the Canaan dog as Israel’s national dog, but Israel itself has yet to do so – likely due to inertia rather than any particular opposition, she explained.
As Shiboleth encountered during her quest to relocate the Sha’ar Hagai kennel within Israel, Nevo stressed that finding a new site to raise the dogs is extremely difficult due to a variety of regulatory and land issues.
She expressed her hope, however, that she and her colleagues would succeed in building a center to breed the dogs and educate members of the public about their history.
“We are really asking for very little,” Nevo said. “So many other nations have a national dog, so why don’t the Israelis?”