Paws and pandemic: The coronavirus impact on Israel’s animal abuse crisis

“Sadly, we see cases of animal abuse all year long."

ACTIVISTS DEMONSTRATE against animal abuse outside the Soglowek poultry slaughterhouse in the North. (photo credit: HILA OZ)
ACTIVISTS DEMONSTRATE against animal abuse outside the Soglowek poultry slaughterhouse in the North.
(photo credit: HILA OZ)
Last week, a woman found a three-month-old puppy near Ariel. Starving, dehydrated, in incredible pain and with hundreds of ticks all over its body, the dog was luckily spotted by the woman as she drove by. She was able to take the poor abandoned canine and save him from death’s door, taking him to a clinic in Tel Aviv to recover.
The story may seem unbelievable. But unfortunately, the horrible truth is that this dog was one of the lucky ones. Most of these stories don’t have happy endings.
Throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic, a brighter spotlight has been placed on animal abuse in Israel, and stories of abandoned dogs and cats throughout Israel living in horrible conditions are all too common.
This may be surprising because in many ways, the pandemic has been very beneficial for animal welfare.
According to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Israel (SPCA), adoptions of dogs have soared by 300% throughout the course of the pandemic. This makes sense. With COVID-19 lockdowns, more people are staying home and are able to raise pets, something that may not have been an option when they had to commute to work every day.
But at the same time, the pandemic has also seen more reports of animal abuse.
Some of these incidents have been very high-profile. For instance, in October 2020, Bat Yam resident Alan Morrison made headlines when videos of him abusing his dog, Taylor, went viral over social media.
Within an hour, an angry mob had assembled outside his apartment, and police feared they would attempt to lynch him.
Ultimately, Morrison was arrested and Taylor saved, but both politicians and the general public were incredibly vocal in their outcry against the brutal animal abuse.
Despite this story, animal abuse does not seem to have increased significantly during the pandemic in Israel. Rather, we are only now becoming more aware of it.
“Sadly, we see cases of abuse all year long that simply get less media coverage,” Yael Arkin, CEO of the Israeli animal protection nonprofit Let the Animals Live, told The Jerusalem Post, adding that she agreed the pandemic was helping raise public awareness of how rampant animal abuse is in the country.
“We did definitely see greater involvement from the public during the pandemic,” Arkin said. “People spending more time at home meant they had more time to adopt animals, care for them and be more aware of the state of animals around them.”
But it isn’t just cases of pet abuse such as the Bat Yam incident that are getting noticed.
The crisis of stray abandoned dogs is a massive problem in many parts of the country. Dogs are often left abandoned in remote areas and landfills, occasionally by illegal puppy mills, according to the SPCA.
By far, the area in Israel with the most abandoned dogs living in horrible and unsanitary conditions is the South, particularly around Beersheba, Dimona and Arad.
In June 2020, the SPCA had uncovered a massive garbage-filled landfill near Arad that is home to hundreds of stray dogs. Many of these dogs are covered in scars and with injuries, fighting over scraps of food in unsanitary conditions. Since they haven’t been spayed or neutered, more dogs will be born into this environment.
This is especially dangerous because these conditions can lead to the spread of dangerous diseases among the dogs, and some of them, such as rabies, can be fatal to humans.
Unfortunately, very little is being done about it, and there are three main reasons for why that is the case.
Decentralization of responsibility
According to the rescue organization SOS Pets, the reason for paltry specifics regarding animal abuse in Israel is the lack of centralization.
“Nobody has the real numbers of how many cases REALLY happened because nobody deals with it,” an SOS Pets representative told the Post.
Responsibility for dealing with claims of animal abuse falls on three separate entities: the Israel Police, the Agriculture Ministry and local municipalities. But it is unclear which body is responsible for what, and some feel they won’t actually help, with SOS Pets noting that the different bodies can simply shift responsibility onto one of the others rather than help.
Lack of enforcement
Even when one of the relevant bodies is contacted, the authorities are often slow to move. As noted by SOS Pets, most complaints end up being closed without any consequences.
“As it stands today, there is severe under-enforcement, which means people can freely abuse animals with no one stopping them and no consequences for their actions whatsoever,” Arkin said. “The reports must be addressed, enforcement must be done, executive fines must be handed and charged, animals must be confiscated from abusers, and charges must be pressed.”
Overly light punishments
Sadly, even when charges are filed, the punishments are notoriously light, and many feel they fail to act as a deterrent.
This is especially the case with Morrison, who last week received what Arkin dubbed a “laughably light sentence” – just two months in jail, which was carried out instead by doing community service.
“The whole world watched the severe violence and the vigorous beatings, and we all felt great pain seeing the abuse,” the SPCA said in a statement to the Post at the time. “What else does the court need to put this man in prison for years? He should have been given a heavier punishment.
“These punishments are not a deterrent and do not serve to prevent the suffering of helpless animals.”
Morrison isn’t the only abuser to get off with such a light sentence. According to Arkin, this happens more often than not even if there is a conviction.
“The law states a maximum punishment of three years imprisonment for animal abuse,” she said. “If people start doing actual time in prison, that would be the most effective deterrent factor against abusers.”
But the one piece of good news to come out of these reports of animal abuse is that the issue has become more important to the public. According to the SPCA, that can help a lot, especially as more people report incidents of animal abuse to them or law enforcement.
“We call on everyone to keep their eyes open, look at what’s around them and report any abuse, harm or neglect to us or the police,” SPCA spokesman Gadi Whitner told the Post.
Hopefully, as the issue becomes more important to more people, helpless dogs at death’s door, like the one found near Ariel, or those abused by owners such as happened in Bat Yam can be saved from cruel and unnecessary suffering.