TA junkmen say nay to proposed ban of horses

Rights groups claim working animals are mistreated.

tel aviv shore 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
tel aviv shore 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Tel Aviv junk dealers are complaining that a proposed municipal bylaw is threatening their livelihood by banning them from putting the horse before the cart. Municipal officials and animal rights group advocates claim the horses and mules used by the dealers are mistreated, but the dealers disagree. The sound of their horses' hoofbeats and their cries of "Alte Zachen" (junk man) calling residents to come out to the street to buy and sell used goods has become a fixture in the Tel Aviv area. Although some use trucks, many still rely on the more traditional horse and wagon. But on Thursday, 15 of the horse-drawn wagons and carriages lined up in front of the Tel Aviv Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) office to protest the bylaw that would ban use of horses or donkeys for work purposes in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa area. "We use these animals for work every day. If we aren't allowed to use them, we'll be out of a job," said Nissim Rachimov, who has been using a horse-drawn wagon to collect scrap metal for sale for the past six months. Rachimov, as well as several of the other protesters, are self-admitted drug addicts and ex-convicts. They say that if the city takes away their horses, they will be forced to return to a life of crime. "I make NIS 50 to 100 a day collecting scrap metal. If I don't have my horse, what else can I do but return to selling drugs on the street," he asked. "We're protesting outside the SPCA, because they're the ones responsible for this law," said Herzl Yehuda. "They found a few cases of abuse and now they want to put an end to all our livelihoods. I want them to come out here and show me one horse that is mistreated. They're all vaccinated, licensed, and well taken care of." Yehuda, the owner and operator of a carriage service which provides rides for tourists on the Tel Aviv boardwalk, also rents out ponies for children's rides. According to the Tel Aviv-Jaffa SPCA, hundreds of horses and donkeys in the area are held under poor conditions. Animals are forced to work long hours without rest, water and food, sometimes pulling large loads of heavy materials. When they are not working, the are often kept in makeshift stables or in residential backyards and courtyards and fed barely enough to survive. The Tel Aviv-Jaffa SPCA collected over 90 horses and donkeys over the last two years. "We receive animals here that are in terrible condition. Many of them suffer from severe malnutrition, dehydration and exhaustion, as well as injuries caused by brutal and improper treatment," said SPCA veterinarian Dr. Tammy Siniaver. "There are laws in place to prevent cruelty to animals. You need a license to keep a horse the same way you need a license to keep a dog. The problem is that the laws are not enforced," Tel Aviv city council member Orna Banai told The Jerusalem Post. The proposed bylaw will give city inspectors the authority to fine anybody in possession of an unlicensed animal. "We hope that the fines and comprehensive enforcement will discourage the owners from keeping up the practices bring an end to the lamentable conditions," she said. According to a report compiled by the Let the Animals Live animal rights group, the situation has worsened over the last few years due to the rising costs of fuel and metal, which makes keeping horses more economical. "These animals have rights, too. Tel Aviv is the last place where we should be witnessing this disgraceful neglect," said council member Itay Pinkas. "The current situation is a disgrace. Tourists who come to Israel and see these animals in the streets are appalled that it can happen in this country,' said SPCA director-general Gadi Vitner. "We commend the city council on its actions and intend to cooperate fully in trying to put an end to the cruel conditions." However, Dr. Simona Bar-el, the veterinarian who treats Rachimov's horse as well as several others in the region, said the reason that people do not have licenses for their horses is that the city refuses to issue them. "We have to remember that people depend on these animals for their livelihood," said Bar-el. "I have been to some of the stables and the conditions are sufferable. I think that the city has to meet these people halfway and allow them to take out licenses." City veterinarian Dr. Zvi Gilan said "a license will be issued to anybody who wants one and can meet the criteria. So far nobody has requested it." The criteria for keeping livestock appear on the city's Web site and include a veterinarian's bill of health, a vaccination certificate, photos of the animal and a NIS 200 processing fee. The animals' living conditions must also be inspected and approved by the city veterinarian.