The way Yuval Mendelovitz puts it, the decision to open his dog shelter 12 years ago did not come from choice – he had to do it.In June 2004, four-year-old Avivit Ganon of Tel Aviv was killed by her family’s American Staffordshire terrier. Five months later, regulations for the importation and possession of “dangerous” dogs came into effect.The types of dog covered by the regulations were the American Staffordshire terrier (also called Amstaff), pit bull, bull terrier, Argentine dogo, Japanese tosa, English mastiff, Brazilian fila and rottweiler. The regulations prohibited the importation of these breeds, and of other dogs deemed dangerous.
According to the regulations, the owners of dangerous dogs already in the country had to be at least 18 years old. They had to hold a special permit and post a sign outside their home warning of the dog’s presence. Such dogs could be taken into the public domain only by people aged 18 or older who were capable of controlling them. A leash could not exceed two meters in length, and the dogs had to be muzzled.Perhaps most significantly, it became mandatory to sterilize or neuter dangerous dogs, and such animals could be given or sold only to the security forces, the municipal veterinarian or a pound, at the latter’s authorization.“Apparently, there was abuse going on with the pit bull that killed Avivit, but nobody cared about that,” Mendelovitz says. “Once [the government] made the law where they weren’t allowed to breed pit bulls anymore, people started to kill them. They were throwing them out of their homes. So I started to save them; I had something like 35 right away,” he says.“I went around saving pit bulls all over the country,” he goes on. “Our God doesn’t work for just anybody! He says there will be pit bulls in the world, there will be pit bulls in the world! It’s very simple.”This was the beginning of what today is known as Yuval Mendelovitz’s Dog Rescue, currently located in Hod Hasharon.
ON AN average day, Mendelovitz’s facility has anywhere from 15 to 50 dogs. (On the day we spoke, it was 17.) The most ever was 116. The dogs are all what the government deems “aggressive breeds,” mostly pit bulls and rottweilers.The dogs are there for a few reasons: some no one wanted to take responsibility for; some were scheduled to be euthanized in other shelters (which often don’t have enough room and are incredibly over-extended); some were victims of abuse; and some were being used in illegal dogfights.One day, while walking his own pit bull down the street, Mendelovitz saw a woman who had one of her own. She told him to be careful and to walk his dog on the other side of the street. At first, he was confused as to what the woman meant, but she told him her dog was dangerous and that she had rescued him from a life of organized dogfighting.“I was surprised to hear that people in Israel were doing dogfights,” he says. “This got me going even more.” Once he learned that dogfighting was rampant in Israel, stopping it became an integral part of his mission.“When I find out that dogfights are happening, I go and take the dogs and do balagan [make a fuss],” he explains. “If we can go with the police, we do, and they arrest all the people. It’s illegal, but most times, the police either don’t care about it or they don’t know how to handle these people. They’ve started to ask now, and they do want to learn. Every time I meet someone from the police, they try to understand what’s happening, but I’m doing their job, essentially.”Mendelovitz had hopes of working more directly with the police.“If I had a badge, I could go to the dogfights and say, ‘Okay you did something wrong.’ But I can’t do that with the way things are now,” he says.He doesn’t let a lack of police support stop him, though which often results in him fighting the perpetrators behind the dogfights. He doesn’t bat an eye.“In the end, I will get the dogs because I love my dogs,” he says. “Everybody who knows me, knows that.”
Illegal dogfights take place all over the country, within every demographic: rich, poor, Arab and Jew, Mendelovitz says.There is a lot of money involved, and everybody wants in. It took him three years to catch one man who was running dogfights, and he believes strongly that if he had the police working with him, the man could have been caught much sooner.AFTER LEAVING the moshav near Nahariya where he was raised, Mendelovitz, now 40, served in the Golani Brigade from 1996 to 1999.“I’m a soldier and I protect my children,” he states. “I go to fights, I save them from abuse, I steal them, and I do all these things that the government should do. They should stop the fights and they don’t do it, so I do all the garbage work. I started the shelter because no one else wanted to take them, and no one else knew what to do with them. I knew how to handle them.”He feels he understands the true nature of pit bulls, saying they are too often woefully misunderstood. Ironically, he claims, it is the stigma of aggression surrounding such breeds that leads less savory characters to abuse them and enter them into dogfights.The laws certainly don’t protect them, and it could be argued that the laws don’t protect potential human victims either.By making their breeding illegal, everything becomes clandestine, thrusting these dogs further into the seedy underworld that seeks to profit from their abuse.Mendelovitz knows first-hand the effects that abuse has on dogs that have an incredible capacity to be loving and loyal companions.“Right now,” he says, “I have 17 dogs around me, and you don’t hear one bark. It’s very nice, very comfortable. People don’t know the true nature of the pit bull. I train them to behave in and out of the house. They don’t bite. I’m not a dog trainer; I just understand the mind of the animals. When I was a child, I lived with a lot of animals. I’ve been around them all my life.”People adopt dogs from his shelter all the time, once they’re ready for adoption. When someone comes for a dog, he shows them a maximum of three. He says he uses intuition to make a match and views each adoption as a treasure that can rebuild a dog’s life anew.“I understand where he [the dog] has been, who he was, and then we go from there,” he says. “Every dog has his own soul.”The amount of time it takes to rehabilitate a dog, Mendelovitz says, depends primarily on two things: the nature of the abuse and the age of the dog. He trains them and rehabilitates them to behave in a manner that is safe for anyone, even families with young children.He himself has a four-year-old daughter. The shelter’s Facebook page prominently features a picture of her lounging on a bed with several Pit Bulls beside her.He emphasizes that his dedication to the dogs comes at a high price in regard to his family.“I love the dogs, but I also have a daughter, and because of what I do, she doesn’t see her father,” he says. “She’s amazing. She’s my best friend. She has her own pit bull, of course.”
OVER THE past 12 years, Mendelovitz has moved 10 times. He survived a heart attack and the disintegration of his marriage.Throughout all of this, he never lost sight of his goal: to save dogs at any cost.After watching numerous videos of Mendelovitz on YouTube, you might call him something of a dog whisperer, or even a dog rescue vigilante.“I work like the army,” he explains. “I have my own people on the ground who provide me with information.... I do a lot of homework.”Once he hears that people are abusing a dog, he watches them and observes how they live. The timeline for this reconnaissance work varies, but after he has learned and seen enough, he goes in, often alone, and takes the dog. Sometimes, a couple of male friends will accompany him if a fight is likely.“I don’t carry a weapon on me because the government didn’t give me one. The police don’t go with me, but they don’t say I can’t go. But I go anyway,” he concludes.Mendelovitz’s dog rescue service became a registered non-profit in 2008, but life is still far from easy. After having repeated requests denied for a vehicle to use during dog rescues, he became disheartened.“The government approved me, but they don’t help me,” he complains. “They say, ‘You’re a good man and what you’re doing is good, but money we won’t give to you.’ Nobody takes responsibility. They know how to say nice things, and that’s it.”He ended up acquiring an ambulance on his own, but is unable to afford gasoline.“To keep moving and keep fighting is very hard for me,” he says. “I had to pay something like NIS 10,000 recently because of the dogs. We ruined the apartment and I had to pay for paint, damage and cleaning. So I have to always ask for help and fight.”When asked to describe his most recent dog-rescue story, Mendelovitz looks and sounds like an excited young boy on a playground, describing a triumphant moment.He received a call from the army informing him that in a West Bank village there was a group of men stealing cars. Inside one of the stolen cars, the army found four dogs tied up.They apparently had been there for two years – they were unable to move because they had not walked for so long that their muscles had atrophied.The dogs hadn’t been abused per se in the sense that they had been given food and water, and were not beaten. Yet being confined in a car for two years was the only life they knew. Perhaps the backseat of that stolen car would have been the only life they knew if not for Mendelovitz.“There are men who talk and there are men who do. I don’t know how to talk; I only know how to do,” he explains.“There are two people who wake up in the morning. One says, ‘What is the world going to give me today?’ He will get nothing. The other one says, ‘What can I give the world today?’ He will get everything.”MENDELOVITZ IS nothing if not a doer and has big hopes for the future of his shelter. He would like to move somewhere permanently, without the fear of nagging landlords or property damage due to the dogs. He dreams of a large plot of land where he could build a farm and take care of his canine companions.Donations come, but they are few and far between. Simply put, he hopes for more and that those who have the ability will see the merit of his work and support it.“I need help; I really do,” he says. “It’s hard to do this on my own. We are talking about dogs that are very good, have love to give and are good with kids, but nobody cares enough. I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I know what I’m doing. Why do you close the doors all the time? Open them!”For more information on Yuval Mendelovitz’s Dog Rescue or to contribute, visit its Facebook page or call 058-686-6886.