search
Int'l Animal Rights Day

Animal sanctuaries on brink of collapse as COVID-19 dries up donations

Animals still need to be fed and cared for, sanctuaries tell Knesset Committee, which also hears that animal abuse cases get lost in labyrinth of bureaucracy

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

  • A donkey rescued by the Starting Over animal sanctuary in Moshav Herut, central Israel. (Revital Topiol)
    A donkey rescued by the Starting Over animal sanctuary in Moshav Herut, central Israel. (Revital Topiol)
  • An injured horse at the Starting Over animal sanctuary in Moshav Herut, central Israel. (Revital Topiol)
    An injured horse at the Starting Over animal sanctuary in Moshav Herut, central Israel. (Revital Topiol)
  • A rescued goat at the Starting Over animal sanctuary in Moshav Herut, central Israel. (Revital Topiol)
    A rescued goat at the Starting Over animal sanctuary in Moshav Herut, central Israel. (Revital Topiol)
  • Danielle Meiri, Head of Animal Care at Freedom Farm, looking after Mandy, a hen rescued from the egg industry who has chronic problems with her immune system. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)
    Danielle Meiri, Head of Animal Care at Freedom Farm, looking after Mandy, a hen rescued from the egg industry who has chronic problems with her immune system. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)
  • Gali, a blind calf at Freedom Farm in central Israel. (Courtesy, Freedom Farm)
    Gali, a blind calf at Freedom Farm in central Israel. (Courtesy, Freedom Farm)
  • A rabbit at Freedom Farm undergoing  treatment for an eye infection incurred while it was used for experiments (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)
    A rabbit at Freedom Farm undergoing treatment for an eye infection incurred while it was used for experiments (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)
  • Israeli animal activist Nora Lifschitz holds a wounded fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus) at her new bat shelter in Israel's central Elah Valley, south of Beit Shemesh, on June 22, 2016. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)
    Israeli animal activist Nora Lifschitz holds a wounded fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus) at her new bat shelter in Israel's central Elah Valley, south of Beit Shemesh, on June 22, 2016. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)
  • Sharon Cohen with a bovine friend at the Starting Over animal sanctuary in Moshav Herut, central Israel. (Revital Topiol)
    Sharon Cohen with a bovine friend at the Starting Over animal sanctuary in Moshav Herut, central Israel. (Revital Topiol)
  • Tucking in at the Starting Over animal sanctuary in Moshav Herut, central Israel. (Revital Topiol)
    Tucking in at the Starting Over animal sanctuary in Moshav Herut, central Israel. (Revital Topiol)
  • A half starved horse rescued by the Starting Over animal sanctuary in Moshav Herut, central Israel. (Revital Topiol)
    A half starved horse rescued by the Starting Over animal sanctuary in Moshav Herut, central Israel. (Revital Topiol)
  • Friends of a feather: At the Starting Over animal sanctuary in Moshav Herut, central Israel. (Revital Topiol)
    Friends of a feather: At the Starting Over animal sanctuary in Moshav Herut, central Israel. (Revital Topiol)

Animal sanctuaries are near the point of collapse as donations dry up while requests for help continue to rise, a Knesset committee heard ahead to International Animal Rights Day on Thursday.

Several organizations told the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee Tuesday that the coronavirus pandemic has halted tours of their facilities — a key source of income — and that supporters have stopped donating or have canceled standing orders for as little as NIS 10 ($3) a month, impacting the sanctuaries’ ability to feed and care for their animals.

Sharon Cohen, founder of Starting Over in central Israel, which has 500 animal residents, including horses, cows and 100 donkeys, described a new trend that is seeing dozens of horse owners and stables turning their horses out because they can no longer afford their upkeep, and approaching sanctuaries like hers, which cannot afford to admit any more. “This has never happened before,” she said.

“Some of our suppliers have agreed to defer payments,” she added. “We can’t pay our workers.”

Keren Or Solomon with one of her many rescues. (Ynet screenshot)

Keren Or Solomon, founder of Ray of Light Farm, whose several hundred animals are cared for with the help of youth at risk, individuals on the autism spectrum, Holocaust survivors and victims of sexual abuse, said winter flooding had just added to the coronavirus woes.

Adit Romano of Freedom Farm, most of whose crippled, blind, genetically modified or otherwise limited farm animals come mainly from the livestock industry, said, “When people are in difficulty, the donations for animals go first. Workers can go on vacation without pay, but not our workers. The animals can’t do without food and care. There’s simply no way of cutting costs.”

A kiss for Yossi the pig from an admirer. (Courtesy, Freedom Farm)

The lack of a state budget due to political wrangling is seriously limiting the ability of the Environmental Protection Ministry to help, ministry official Gali Davidson said, giving her a “stomachache” when she thinks of the growing number of nonprofits dealing with an ever-wider range of abused and neglected animals.

A lamb at at the Starting Over animal sanctuary in Moshav Herut, central Israel. (Revital Topiol)

For the current fiscal year, the ministry will be distributing NIS 4 million ($1.23 million) between 34 organizations, she said.

Treasury official Netanel Asheri, responsible for funding nonprofit organizations during the coronavirus crisis, could not say how much of the NIS 250 million ($76.7 million) or so budgeted so far for all nonprofits had been channeled to animal organizations, but urged sanctuaries to comment on proposals for a new NIS 100 million ($30.7 million) grant for the whole sector before the terms are confirmed and submissions are invited.

Davidson’s unit was created to manage an Animal Welfare Fund mandated by a 1994 animal rights law to concentrate money for education, training, support for animal nonprofits and other related issues.

It was supposed to be funded by the state, donations, and fines imposed for animal abuse.

Animal abuse cases closed for lack of evidence, few abusers fined

But, as one committee session in October and a follow-up one on Tuesday revealed, fines are few and far between because of the many laws, state bodies and bureaucracy involved.

A Knesset Research Department report written for the committee found that animal welfare supervision and enforcement is mainly divided between the Israel Police, the Agriculture Ministry and local authorities. The state prosecution is responsible for cases involving abuse of an animal “with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.”

Screen capture from a video of a central Israel man abusing a dog, which went viral in October. (Channel 12)

Neither the Environment Ministry, which is responsible for administering the Animal Welfare Fund, nor the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, whose role includes checking for cruelty, illegal hunting and trade of wild animals, is authorized to enforce animal cruelty laws, however.

The Agriculture Ministry, which receives complaints about animal abuse both through its veterinary service and its Central Enforcement and Investigations Unit, has 62 inspectors responsible for a wide range of issues, including animal welfare, but just six who deal solely with the subject.

Of all 300 or so local authority veterinarians, some 90 have gone through Agriculture Ministry training on enforcement and 16 have been authorized to enforce the law and impose fines. But due to lack of coordination between the Agriculture and Interior Ministries, not one of them has received the final stamp of approval to put their knowledge into practice.

The research department discovered that out of 1,982 cases involving animal abuse that were opened by the police between 2015 and 2020, 82% had been closed due to lack of sufficient evidence.

Scene from a Haifa slaughterhouse in an expose by the rights organization, Animals. (Animals)

The Agriculture Ministry opened 523 cases between 2015 and 2019, closed 162 of them, filed 58 indictments and imposed an average of 107 fines yearly, although it was unable to say how many of the fines had been paid.

Roy Kliger, head of the Central Enforcement and Investigations Unit, said that since October’s discussion, he had reached out to the police, the central fine collections body and even the tax authority to organize better coordination. The tax authority is interested in looking at unauthorized puppy mills.

The government plans in January to launch a hotline for reports of animal abuse, similar to that for calling an ambulance or the fire service. Complainants will fill out a standardized online form and will be allocated a case number, enabling them to follow up on how the case is being handled. Meanwhile, the Agriculture Ministry is opening a special bank account for the payment of fines.

Appearing on Tuesday before the Knesset podium to mark International Animal Rights Day, committee chairwoman and animal rights activist Miki Haimovich (Blue and White) said that if animals could address the Knesset, they would ask for their rights to be upheld, not for a day when their rights are discussed.

Blue and White MK Miki Haimovich at the Knesset on May 27, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“Animals got this day because they don’t have rights. Too many years have passed when the cries of animals failed to penetrate the walls of this house, when the ears were deaf to the pain and eyes blind to the fear.”

Humans kill more than half a billion animals every day, not including sea creatures, which are weighed in tons, she said, and 10,000 species were being lost every year.

She added, “I’m waiting for this day to be erased from the calendar because it will no longer be needed.”

read more:
comments