Dog days in the promised land

There’s a story about a book publisher being asked how to write a best seller. He said the title of it would be “Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog.” But I can’t help but thinking “The Conspiracy of Jesus’ Dog” would also rank high. (Memo to self: get on it.) Or maybe I could combine Jesus, Lincoln, dogs and conspiracy theories. Lincoln is reported to have said, after all, “I care not much for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.”

So I loved this freelancer’s piece for the Washington Post which begins:

SHA’AR HAGAI, Israel — Pricked, pointy ears and almond-shaped brown eyes. A tan or black-and-white coat and a tail that curls upward. For many in Israel, this is the description of a pesky stray that feeds on garbage. But for a passionate few, it is a cultural treasure that should be preserved.

Meet the biblical dog.

“When they talk about dogs in the Bible, it was these,” says Myrna Shiboleth, who has done more than anyone to rescue the breed formally known as Canaan dog. “It was the same dog.”

The archaeological evidence bears it out, from 1st-century rock carvings in the Sinai to the skeletons of more than 700 dogs from the 5th century B.C. discovered south of Tel Aviv. When Jesus and Moses turned their heads to the sound of a barking dog, it was the Canaan that they saw.

I’m not even a dog person and I oohed and aahed over the accompanying slide show. They’re very interesting dogs and their pricked ears are noteworthy. I had seen some near Bedouin tribes when I was in Israel last year.

The article uses the plight of the dogs to discuss issues like modernization, tradition and the most pitched battle of them all — land use in Israel. Many people have the animals as pets but the article is focused more on how the dogs fend for themselves in the wild and have suffered population losses either through eradication programs or mating with urban dogs.

And the Israeli government is collecting the wild dogs and sending them for breeding around the globe. We learn more about the Israeli government’s actions to stop Shiboleth’s non-permitted operation and:

In an online petition, about 2,000 people from dozens of countries and nearly every U.S. state have taken up Shiboleth’s case, voicing outrage at what they see as Israel’s lack of attention to the fate of the “holy dog.” One even goes so far as to compare its fate to that of the Jewish people and their narrow escape from annihilation.

The religious themes are interwoven throughout the article, including here:

What surprises many people is that the dog is getting so little support compared with other beasts of the Good Book.

Starting in the 1960s, Israel launched an ambitious program to bring back “the animals of the Bible to the land of the Bible,” says David Saltz, an ecology professor at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Targeted species included the Asiatic wild ass (a big success) and the ostrich (a complete failure). The reintroduction efforts went to extreme lengths: In one spectacular instance, four Persian fallow deer were smuggled out of Iran.

We learn a little bit about the history of using the Canaan Dog in patrols and landmine detection units and as messenger dogs.

The article can teach you a little bit about how dog breeding works, the importance of breeding dogs from the wild. I’m sure it could use some more critical perspective or responses from the Israel governemnt … but it will make great source material for the new “Canaan Dog Code” book I plan to publish.

Photo of Canaan dog via Shutterstock.

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  • Julia

    Great story. Love the lady’s name.

  • Joe

    I thought the name “Myrna Shiboleth” was too good to be true, until I did a Google search.

  • Jerry

    I’m not even a dog person

    You realize “them’s fightin words”, don’t you? Perhaps books like this might change your mind. Or just search for dogs teach us about God. As Emily Dickinson put it Dogs are better than human beings because they know but do not tell. Ok, the sermon is over. But if you do the search, you’ll see how very popular books and stories are about how dogs teach us about God.

    And, yes, thanks for the pointer to the great story. I’m a sucker for dog stories like this one.

  • Jeff

    This was a terrific piece. Thanks for sharing. I’d love to see more like this from the MSM.

    PS: I would so, so have pegged you as a dog person. I don’t know why. Anyway, this is probably listed on Jerry’s link, which I’m going to explore, but I’ll go ahead and share it here as a truly great book at the intersection of theology and canophilia:

  • sari

    Interesting that the Canaan dogs are associated with the Bedouin tribes in Israel, since most branches of Islam consider dogs to be ritually impure and most Bedouin are Muslim.

    The article was cute and clearly written to elicit a sympathetic response from readers, particularly those who would be moved enough to write letters of protest to the Israeli government. It would have been helpful to examine how Jews view dogs and the problem of feral cats and dogs in Israel. Likewise, there’s probably a lot more to the land use story, like whether or not Shibboleth’s eviction has anything to do with Blueprint Negev.

  • Jeff

    Muslim teaching regards dogs as “unclean” and therefore unfit for Muslims to keep as pets. It is, however, permissible to use them in farming and hunting.

  • Jeff

    Guard dogs may also be kept, but not as pets.