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Post-lockdown outing ends in poisoning deaths of pet dogs

Nature and Parks Authority probing whether Ketem and Gulliver died from land-based poison or water drunk from Besor River in southern Israel

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

Ketem, in better times. (Courtesy, Moran Ajami)
Ketem, in better times. (Courtesy, Moran Ajami)

An outing in the countryside on Saturday to let off steam after the lifting of Israel’s third coronavirus lockdown ended in the deaths from poisoning of two pet dogs.

Four friends — two from northern Israel, and two from the south — had arranged to walk along an area where the Beersheba stream enters the Besor River, near Kibbutz Tzeelim, southwest of Beersheba in southern Israel.

Moran Ajami from Kibbutz Giladi in the far north of Israel brought Ketem, her six year-old spaniel, and her boyfriend, Shahar, brought Gulliver, his four-year-old Belgian shepherd. The couple let the dogs run free after their monthlong lockdown confinement.

But some 20 minutes after the two animals had drunk water from the stream, they went into convulsions, frothing at the mouth, and died.

Gulliver. (Courtesy, Moran Ajami)

Ajami told Israel Radio, “Those dogs were our life. After a monthlong lockdown, we went out on walk, to stretch our legs and to see [lovely] landscapes. The dogs were happy. We walked along the stream. We didn’t know that it was polluted. There was no fence and we didn’t smell anything. Our dogs love nature and love to run. Everything was fabulous until this traumatic incident. It hurts so badly that we couldn’t save them.”

She told The Times of Israel that the couple had tried to contact the veterinary hospital and private vets, but that nobody had answered because it was the Sabbath.

The Besor Stream in the Western Negev, southern Israel, on April 13, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90 )

They buried the dogs without having autopsies performed and did not inform the authorities, who learned about the incident from a widely shared Facebook post published by their friend Yannai Aloush from Beersheba.

Aloush wrote that there had been no warning signs and that the group had not known that froth on a stream (seen in the picture below) was a sign of pollution.

“It all happened so fast,” he wrote. “It’s so shocking. We felt helpless.”

טיול שנגמר באסון גוליבר וכתם – הכלבים של שחר ומורן מתו כ 20 דקות לאחר שתייה מערוץ הנחל שעובר מול קיבוץ צאלים, (בערך…

Posted by ‎ינאי אלוש‎ on Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which together with the local drainage authority is responsible for the state of the water, immediately took samples from the stream and checked the land around it for poison, but as of Sunday, the source of the poisoning remained unclear

Dalia Tal, responsible for streams and rivers at the environmental organization Zalul, told Israel Radio that the stream could have been contaminated by sewage from the West Bank city of Hebron, or from the chemical plants of Ramat Hovav in the Negev, although the latter was less likely.

It is against the law to put poison down on land in open spaces.

“Whether or not the source of the poison turns out to be the stream, this is an opportunity to draw public attention to the fact that most streams in Israel are polluted,” Tal told The Times of Israel.

Most streams were only sampled a couple of times a year for statistical purposes, with those flowing into the Sea of Galilee perhaps more often, she went on. But even the Sea of Galilee’s tributaries have been polluted recently by leptospirosis.

A sign warns of polluted water outside Haifa on May 18, 2013. (Shay Levy/Flash 90)

In October, the Health Ministry and Environmental Protection Ministry advised against visiting northern streams, after unsafe levels of contaminants at a number of locations were believed to have caused an outbreak of the potentially fatal disease. Some 50 people were suspected or confirmed as having been infected by the bacterial infection, which is transmitted via animal urine.

Tal advised people never to drink or let their pets drink from streams, and said people with sensitive or compromised immune systems should not bathe even in spring-fed rivers such as Keziv in northern Israel.

Pollution warning signs, she continued, were the responsibility of the polluters, most of whom would be highly unlikely to want to publicize their actions.

A spokeswoman from the Eshkol Regional Authority, under which this stretch of river falls, told The Times of Israel that kibbutz children regularly bathed there and that wildlife such as ducks could be found there too. “It’s very strange,” she said, adding that the authority was considering putting up danger signs until the investigation was finished.

The authority knew nothing about pollution in the river, she added, stressing that if contamination came from Hebron, the water ran through several authorities until it reached Eshkol.

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