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Judging the Canaan Dog

by Dr. Dvora Ben Shaul
Dr. Ben Shaul, one of the founders of the Shaar Hagai Kennels, has been involved with the Canaan Dog for many years.  A close personal friend of Prof. Rudolphina Menzel, she worked closely with her in establishing the Canaan as a recognized breed. As the chief biologist for the Israel Nature Reserves Authority, she developed connections with various Bedouin tribes and brought in many dogs from the Bedouin and the wild. Today she writes a regular nature column for the Jerusalem Post, and is one of Israel's recognized authorities on the Canaan.




I first met the Abu Suleiman tribe of Beduin in the spring of 1970. They were a small, mobile tribe from the Sinai peninsula and they liked to come over to the Negev when there had been good rains and the pasture was lush. I was working In the Negev near the Dead Sea when, while driving along a desert trail, I saw a Beduin boy of about 12 or 13 years of age trying, unsuccessfully, to extricate a sheep that had gotten itself hopelessly entangled in a thorn bush. I hopped out of the jeep, found my secateurs and, with a dozen or so snips, had pruned back the thorn bush and the sheep scampered off to join its companions.


The boy was interested to know what I was doing and I explained that I was a biologist who was studying the habits of the desert animals. He was a bright eyed, curious boy with a broad knowledge of the animals of the area. We shared a candy bar and a coffee from my thermos and when I left he thanked me and addressed me as hakima. This is one of the ultimate compliments that a Beduin can pay for it means wise woman.


I saw no more of the Abu Suleimans until the spring of 1972. I was with a work party from the Nature Reserves Authority. We were putting leg bands on Dead Sea sparrows in order to try to learn something of their migratory route. One morning when we had been camped for several days my young aquaintance, Machmud of the Abu Suleimans came into our encampment. He again addressed me as hakima and told me that his father, the tribal head, Abu Suleiman, wished to invite me to his tent as he wished to consult me about an animal.


Telling my companions that I would return in a short while I invited one of the zoologists in the party to accompany us and we all three piled into the jeep and were off. I soon realized that the boy had walked about eight miles to summon me so I knew that his father felt it was important. Not that an eight mile walk would be of any concern to a Beduin, but freeing the youth from his shepherds duties was more serious.


When we got to the encampment Machmud took us to his fathers tent and after the interminable exchanges of polite greetings and the inevitable coffee the Sheik went to a corner and came back with a Canaan Dog puppy about four weeks of age. It had been somewhat mauled but its only injury appeared to be a broken jaw. The Sheik asked me if it could be saved. I examined the pup and told him that it probably could but that it would have to have its mouth taped shut, would not be able to nurse and would have to be fed with an eye dropper through a small opening at the side of its mouth. I told him that it would have to be kept warm and fed every two hours, day and night, for the next three weeks. He was not at all perturbed but asked me to do whatever I could to save the pup.


I was extremely surprised by this since my experience with the Beduin was that they were totally unsentimental about most animals and that they might possibly make an effort to save an injured horse or a camel or possibly a ewe, but certainly not a dog. Nevertheless, the boy whittled me a V shaped piece of wood for a splint and I set the jaw as best I could and taped it into place, leaving the promised slit for feeding. I showed the woman he had called to our side how to wash the puppy to make sure it urinated and defecated and then I told her that in three weeks when she took off the splint it could have soft cheese and finely ground meat. I asked if she had a grinder and she flashed a big smile and said that she would chew its meat for it!


My curiosity led me to ask the Chief just what was so special about this particular puppy. He took us outside and showed us tracks and said Here you see, in the night a hyaena came into the area, stole one of the puppies while the bitch was out hunting. The bitch came back, chased the hyaena and it dropped the pup from its mouth. That is when we came out because of the noise.


So you see, he said, last night this little dog was in the hands of Allah and Allah made it possible for a small balladi bitch (balladi is the name the Beduin use for the Canaan dogs around their encampments) to force a big hyaena to drop the pup.  Then he explained to me The ways of Allah are devious and strange. Who can know? Perhaps this is the dog that Allah has decreed will bark and warn one of my children that a snake is near them, or perhaps it will be the dog that will warn of a leopard or a hyaena trying to enter the sheep fold--- we can only know that this pup belongs to Allah, who spared it. We must protect it.


I saw no more of the Abu Suleimans for two years but in 1974 I encountered them again, this time while counting gazelles in the Sinai. And the dog was there at the camp. A big, reddish-gold Canaan Dog with a somewhat lopsided grin since the jaw had not healed perfectly straight. But there he was, and from his size and condition it was clear that he was very well cared for.