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According to oral tradition, Israelites used Canaan dogs - Kelef Kanani , as herders and watchdogs.

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(Bar Aharon)

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Canaans in Art (Wikimedia Commons)

Biblical figures like Abraham, the ancestor of both Jews and Arabs, had dogs. Jesus interacted with dogs. 600 years after him, the Muslim Prophet Mohammed interacted with dogs. There is a story in the New Testament where Jesus talks about Lazarus, who finds compassion only from dogs that lick his sores. But the story ends well – when he died, angels carried Lazarus to heaven. The dogs that gave him solace were probably kelef knaanis.

(Journal of Anthropological Archaeology)

9000 year old cave paintings in Shuwaymis, Saudi Arabia are the oldest known portrayal of dogs in art. These were probably ancient forerunners to modern canaan dogs.

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Excavations in Israel have uncovered the Ashkelon dog cemetery, the largest known animal cemetery in ancient times, there are 700 dogs buried in that site, anatomically similar to the modern Canaan. (Israel Museum Website)

Excavations in Israel have uncovered the Ashkelon dog cemetery, the largest known animal cemetery in ancient times, there are 700 dogs buried in that site, anatomically similar to the modern Canaan.  

Jackal (Bar Aharon)

These dogs were kept by Jews, Canaanites and other inhabitants of the land.  When the people were pushed away from their lands due to Roman occupation and exile, their canines retreated into the desert and reverted to a feral lifestyle. Although dogs can interbreed with wolves and jackals which are found in Israel, they rarely did so.

Saluki (Avi Kumar)

Until Jews returned, Bedouins – desert nomads who are Arabic-speaking Muslims used this dog for guarding their flocks of camels, goats, sheep and cattle as they lived in tents. They’d also often adopt wild puppies and raise them to add to their existing stocks.

Some Bedouins keep salukis as hunting dogs but they try not to crossbreed the two. Usually different villages keep the different breeds for this reason.  Also, Druze have their own hunting breed, which they don’t interbreed with Canaans.  So, we see how the locals have understood the value of their working dog breeds. 

(Myrna Shibboleth)

Canaans are found in modern day Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, either domestic or wild. Both the Bible and Quran refer to dogs and the followers of these religions keep them but find then ritually unclean.  In Mohammed’s time he prohibited keeping of dogs as pets. Other Islamic Hadith say that angels won’t enter a room where there is a dog present. Still, the Quran prescribes kindness to dogs and allows keeping them as working animals – guardians, hunters, military use etc. Even Orthodox Jews seldom keep dogs for that matter.

(Myrna Shibboleth)

Today, Bedouin call the Canaan “baladi” which means local/ordinary in Arabic.  Bedouins keep these canines for their work, and they very much appreciate and take good care of them. So, both Arab-Muslim and Jewish people have in the past, kept and still keep dogs. The practice was therefore open to interpretation among sects, but we can be sure that the general consensus is that dogs can be used for guarding livestock hunting working use etc but keeping dogs solely as pets is discouraged and they are usually barred from places of worship.

(Wikimedia Commons)

In the 1930s ,the landscape changed.  Massive Jewish migration happened and Professor Rudolphina Menzel, an Austrian Jewish cynologist, and her husband Dr. Rudolph became fascinated by the breed and its abilities.

Canaan hybrids (Avi Kumar)

Haganah (the militia that would become the Israeli defence forces) tasked her to create a dog unit. She began to observe the local pariah dogs living on the outskirts of settlements and with the Bedouin in desert and wilderness areas, and she then decided that this was a dog that had adapted to the local conditions.  

She found that they were fast learners and adept at various tasks. Soon they were used to guard kibbutzim, in the army, search and rescue, sniffing for mines and drugs etc.

In the 1960s, many Canaans were exported to the US, Europe and beyond. However, other designer  pure breeds such as Labradors, pitbulls etc came into Israel and mixed with the feral dogs, so purebred Canaans are now thought to be rare. It is estimated that there are 3000-5000 purebred Canaan dogs left.

(Bar Aharon)

Other factors causing the decline was

1.The Israeli army uses German/Belgian shepherds and Rottweilers more so now. This is because Canaans are not good attacks dogs – they won’t bite someone only because you tell them to ; they’ll only bite if they feel threatened.

2.The kibbutzim also use imported sheep and herding dogs

3.most Israelis keep imported breeds such as Pekingese labradors etc instead. They think of their native breed as ‘common mongrels’ and it doesn’t carry ‘prestige.’

Canaans are physiologically adapted to living in the desert, still, they get on without any problems in most climates, including the cold weather of Alaska, Finland or UK. They are very strong and healthy dogs with very few genetic problems. 

Dingo (Wikimedia Commons)

They are a landrace breed – or a more natural breed, not a designer breed like Great Dane or Dalmatian. Also they are an ancient breed and are similar to other ancient breeds such spitzes (huskies Pomeranians) and Australian dingoes, with erect ears and lean build being characteristic of these older breeds.

(Myrna Shibboleth)

Canaans are very athletic but not hyperactive. They are caring mothers and will go on to taking care of pups indefinitely.  And, if any of the pups remain as part of the family, will still take care for them even when they are adults.

They have a phenomenal memory and will remember people they have met, even once, and identify them after years.

According to Myrna Shibboleth, considered the foremost expert on the breed, you cannot “buy” a Canaan’s affection or attention with mere food, treats or toys, but only with mutual respect and bonding. Myrna worked with the breed when she emigrated to Israel, from the US in 1969. She got involved in the dog world there, and joined a small group of people who were interested in establishing a kennel with the purpose of breeding and preserving the ancient dog.

She eventually moved  into several buildings that had been abandoned by the British in 1947 – they were in a state of ruin, with no facilities (no electricity or telephone there for 17 years), but with a silver lining – surrounded by the forest and 4 kilometers away from civilization, she could breed and raise dogs without disturbance in conditions that were great for the canines. Her work has appeared in many places. She has published several books including Tails of Shaar Hagai which is available on amazon.com.

(IBA news screenshot/Courtesy – photoshopped)

Her work with Bedouins was challenging because many of them at the time were not accustomed to seeing women work with animals outdoors in her capacity, and they do not usually deal with women outside their close family. So, she had to be accompanied by a man in order to be received by them.

Then after almost 50 years of hard work, the house in which Shiboleth lived for so long while breeding most of the world’s 5,000 existing Canaan dogs, was razed in July 2017 by the Israel Land Authority after evicting her from the property on which she operated the famous Sha’ar Hagai Kennels.

(Bar Aharon)

With no place to live with her dogs, she then moved to Italy to live with a friend who was also a breeder of Canaans – whose original stock had come from Myrna.

She felt that continuing with the breed was of great importance, even if she had to do it from a distance. She has remained in contact with some dedicated friends in Israel who are continuing the work of bringing in free living and Bedouin Canaans to add to the gene pool while it is still possible.  In subsequent visits to Israel, she has examined some of these dogs and collected DNA for an ongoing project on the breed.  She hopes at some point to be able to return to Israel, to continue with her work with the breed. While a disillusioned Myrna had to learn Italian and get used to life far away from her children and grandchildren in Israel, her dogs  adjusted quickly and well to their new home. As long as they are with Myrna, they are happy.  A new litter of five Sha’ar Hagai Canaan puppies were recently born in Italy, and they seem to have adjusted well.

(Bar Aharon)

Myrna’s granddaughter Bar Aharon has inherited her love for animals, keeps Canaans in Israel and is into wildlife photography – she has photographed many wild and domestic Canaans, continuing her grandma’s legacy at home.

So, while the Israeli government has sadly not paid any attention to its indigenous dog breed and this ancient heritage, there are people like Myrna and the Bedouin tribes before her who took pride and valued their ancient cultural heritage.

(Myrna Shibboleth)

Yes, the government has paid a lot of attention to preserving historic and religious sites and even got into huge diplomatic rows with the world over the holy city of Jerusalem, the Cave of Patriarchs etc, and even gone so far as to revive an ancient language that was dead, an intangible asset – Hebrew. They must also look into other assets like a historic dog breed.

Many of us hope that one day this breed will be better preserved for its uniqueness and the fact that it is a link to the people and the land. After all, dogs are man’s best friend and accompanied us to every corner of the world from Australia to Greenland. Just like many cultures have their own unique language religion customs architecture etc it many also have a trademark dog breed.

When asked about the future of the breed, Myrna smirks “these animals are born survivors, they will survive this.“

This 73 year old grandma is still determined to continue her work and recently decided that she has plans to return to Israel after the coronovirus situation clears to work on the  breeds survival.

(Myrna Shibboleth)

All donations are welcome and will help preserve a 5000 year legacy. This breed has historical, cultural and religious significance to both Jews and Arabs. In light of current events where peace accords have been struck, we must remember that the breed is also part of a shared legacy. We should therefore act before it’s too late.

https://gogetfunding.com/help-bring-myrna-and-the-canaan-dogs-home/

Avi Kumar is a historian of Sri Lankan descent who lives in New York.

He has a unique spin on current affairs.

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We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

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