Puppy mills selling ‘tens of thousands’ of dogs each year, Knesset hears
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Puppy mills selling ‘tens of thousands’ of dogs each year, Knesset hears

In its first ever debate on issue, committee told of dreadful breeding conditions, lack of data and enforcement; thousands of abandoned animals put to sleep

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

A puppy mill in the northern city of Haifa run by a resident of the northern Druze village of Usafiya. (Ministry of Agriculture, as presented to the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, August 3, 2020)
A puppy mill in the northern city of Haifa run by a resident of the northern Druze village of Usafiya. (Ministry of Agriculture, as presented to the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, August 3, 2020)

Days after securing legislation to have supervision of animal welfare moved from the Knesset Education Committee to the Internal and Environment Committee that she chairs, animal rights activist MK Miki Haimovich (Blue and White) is considering a bill to regulate dog breeding that will clamp down on pirate puppy mills that churn out tens of thousands of dogs for sale, often in shocking conditions, while unknown thousands of healthy, abandoned animals are being put to sleep every year.

The Environment Committee heard Monday that some 400,000 dogs are registered in Israel, with 50 to 75 percent of them immunized. Around 47,000 dogs are registered each year with local authorities; of those, 3,500 are certified pedigree animals bred with Israel Kennel Club certification and a few hundred are imported from overseas.

Meanwhile, some seven to ten thousand dogs are abandoned every year. It is not illegal for dog owners to give their pets to shelters and relinquish their ownership rights. While no exact figures exist, one senior vet, Avi Sarfati, told The Times of Israel that he estimated “several thousands” of healthy, abandoned dogs were put to sleep each year due to a lack of space in city or volunteer-run pounds.

Other than those figures, little data is collected, the committee heard. The tax authority has no figures on dog trading because a 2013 amendment removed it as a specific category for reporting.

Meir Lankry, head of the Israel Police Environment Section, confiscates illegally bred pit bull puppies from a house in the central city of Or Akiva, in a photograph presented to the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, August 3, 2020.

Responsibility for animal welfare falls between different bodies — the Israel Police, whose Environment Section has a staff of just two (reportedly set to increase once a new commissioner is appointed), the Agriculture Ministry’s Central Enforcement and Investigations Unit (CEIU), and municipal inspectors.

Up to July this year, 84 dogs were confiscated from pirate breeders in Usafiya, Tira, Tel Aviv and Katzrin on the Golan Heights. Last year, 32 attack dogs were confiscated in the northern Druze village of Yarka.

In the meantime, despite selected police raids, and for reasons that remain unclear,  an illegal weekly animal market on the fringes of the Arab city of Kafr Kassem east of Tel Aviv continues.

Tal Gilboa, an animal liberation and vegan activist, tapped a year ago by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to advise on animal welfare, said there was no standard for breeding in puppy mills, no enforcement under existing animal welfare legislation unless complaints were made, and widespread animal abuse.

An illegal puppy farm showing a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dog in the northern Druze village of Usfiya. (Ministry of Agriculture, as presented to the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, August 3, 2020)

“Two dogs are put in a cage to mate, the female gets pregnant, her puppies are taken away from her and then she’s made to get pregnant again, and again,” she said.

Deganit Bendov, formerly responsible at the ministry for animal welfare, said that all breeders should be required to have licenses.

“The problem is with the pirate breeders that have no business permit, no permits for the dogs, do not report on sales and sell in all sorts of places, from stores and houses to gas stations.”

Hilik Merom, chairman of the Israeli Companion Animal Veterinary Association, said, “We’ve needed legislation for years on what’s allowed in breeding. A law would define who is authorized to carry out enforcement.”

A more organized system was needed that would give animals statutory rights, he added. “At present, a dog is a piece of property that has an owner but no rights.”

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Merom estimated that there were “tens of thousands” of dogs being bred annually in so-called puppy mills, the popular breeds (although they are frequently not purebred, despite the advertising) including Shih Tzu and Cavalier King Charles spaniel, but also fighting dogs such as pit bulls, whose breeding is outlawed in the country but for which demand continues to be high. (The Facebook ad above promotes “pedigree Belgian Shepherds.”)

“It should take seven days to write a bill like this and a month to submit it,” Merom said.

The Agriculture Ministry’s Veterinary Service has been working since 2017 on a Knesset amendment based on the UK’s so-called Lucy Law, to oblige those who  buy dogs to register the seller’s details.

Blue and White MK Miki Haimovich at a dog shelter appealing to viewers to give Shimi and other abandoned dogs a home. (YouTube screenshot)

Summarizing the meeting, Haimovich instructed the Tax Authority to examine adding a specific dog breeding and trading clause into the business permit regulations and to report within a month, and asked the Agriculture Ministry’s complaints department for figures on charges, convictions and fines.

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