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09.08.2022 | יב אב התשפב

International Dog Day

To mark International Dog Day on August 26, Dr. Anat Ben-Yonatan, graduate of BIU’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology, writes about the special status of the dog in Israel


On August 26, the world celebrates International Dog Day. Dr. Anat Ben-Yonatan writes about the special status of the dog in Israel.

Anat is a Human-Animal relations researcher; co-founder and co-chair of the community for human-animal studies in Israel (HASI); and a Research Fellow at The Coller-Menmon Program for Animal Rights and Welfare in Tel Aviv University, who wrote her PhD dissertation at Bar-Ilan University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

Israeli society has undergone far-reaching changes in its relationship with dogs. Dogs are considered controversial in Judaism, and in the Bible they even received an unflattering mention when they pounced on Jezebel's body (2 Kings, 9:10). The Nazis' use of dogs against Jews in the Holocaust reinforced the dubious status of dogs in the collective memory. A negative image is also reflected in S.Y. Agnon's book "Only Yesterday”, which describes, among other things, the events of the Jerusalemite dog Balak, – named after the evil king of Moab – who is rabies-stricken, impure and an outcast.

However, the British Mandate, which exposed the local population to a variety of dog breeds; immigrants from the Soviet Union, who brought with them extensive knowledge and deep affection for dogs; and Western culture, led to the development of the kennel culture in Israel. All of these, with the support of positive narratives, which were reflected in the media, literature, and the public, changed the image of the dog from unclean and dangerous to man’s best friend.

About a half a century since the publication of “Only Yesterday” (1945), the literary work reflects how much the dog’s place in Israeli culture has changed: in clear contrast to Agnon’s “Balak”, the dog Dinka, heroine of David Grossman’s book “Someone to Run With” (published in 2000), garners a respectable place, as part of the Israeli culture and family.

These cultural changes explain the annual increase in dog adoption in Israeli households. According to the data of the Israel Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development from 2021, more than a million dogs are registered in Israel. Even in Ultra-Orthodox community, there has been an increase in adoption rates.

In Israel, as in many other Western nations, dogs are liminal animals, those that are in an intermediate state: while biologically, they do not belong to the human race, the fact that they co-exist with us, affords them with a “human-like” status. However, the high status is given to dogs only by virtue of their relationship with humans. Wild dogs are considered a social danger, are referred to as stray dogs and are treated completely different from pet dogs and working dogs – they are moved physically and mentally behind the scenes of society, where many of them end their lives in misery. International Dog Day is an opportunity to look at dogs from a wider perspective.