​The Supreme Court has upheld the State’s appeal on the treatment of cats and dogs infected with Leishmaniasis, which had been held at the Girgurim NGO’s kennel under appalling conditions. The ruling states that the decision by the Veterinary Services at the Ministry of Agriculture was proportionate and that the obligation to prevent any real threat to public health outweighs any other interest of animal protection

The Supreme Court (sitting as a Court of Administrative Matters) upheld the State’s appeal regarding the treatment of cats and dogs infected with Leishmaniasis and ruled that the decision by the Veterinary Services at the Ministry of Agriculture was proportionate and that the obligation to prevent any real threat to public health outweighs the interest of animal protection, and that there was no option other than to order that the animals be put to sleep. 

The ruling states there was no dispute over the balance between public health and animal protection: “the obligation to prevent any real threat to public health outweighs any other interest of animal protection. Animals can be put to sleep under court order when it becomes impossible to effectively safeguard public health using any other means at a reasonable cost”. 

The ruling quoted State data that since the beginning of 2000 and through to the end of 2018, 55 individuals contracted Leishmaniasis and that in the last six years there has been an increase in the number of cases reported each year. Furthermore, in an examination of a 3-year-old girl hospitalized in 2001 with severe damage to the liver and spleen, Leishmaniasis parasites were found.

According to the Hon. Judge Fogelman, who was joined by the Hon. Judge Elron, 30 more days were to be allocated for exploring the alternatives and that, in the absence of agreed solutions within this period, the decision of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Veterinary services shall remain valid.

Hon. Judge Elron added: “There is no doubt as to the vital importance of animal protection and the defendant is to be commended for its efforts to protect their safety.
 However as out Bible tells us, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3, 1)in a place where animals constitute a tangible public health hazard, sadly there may be no alternative but to resort to a solution which will mean harming their well-being”.

The story began a year ago when Ministry of Agriculture inspectors evacuated dozens of cats and dogs from a kennel run by the Girgurim NGO in the north, where they were being kept under appalling conditions and in violation of the Animal Cruelty Prevention Law. Already while the animals were being removed, the inspectors noticed that the animals were suffering from morbidity and severe physical problems. The animals were transferred to a protected facility belonging to the Ministry of Agriculture for treatment. At that facility, it transpired that most of the animals were infected with the Leishmania Infantum, which causes “Visceral Leishmaniasis” - a severe disease contagious to both animals and humans. The disease damages internal organs and may even be fatal. It is especially dangerous to babies and populations with suppressed immune systems.

Visceral Leishmania cannot be prevented and even long-term treatment with drugs in use today for fighting the disease do not fully cure the patients. They remain carriers and are liable to infect others. Besides that, the literature showed no evidence of such widespread morbidity with the Leishmania Infantum parasite among a group of animals living in such close quarters, especially among cats. This increased the Ministries of Agriculture and Health’s concern about the potential spread of the disease.
Therefore, following consultations with the Ministry of Health, and in view of the opinions given by the professionals that putting the animals up for adoption would pose a severe threat to public health going so far as being fatal, especially for at-risk populations suffering from suppressed immune systems or babies, and in spite of the desire to save and rehabilitate the animals after having rescued them, both ministries were of the opinion that these animals had to be put to sleep due to the concern for the public’s health and in order to prevent the disease from spreading. 

Ever since this decision was reached, the Ministry of Agriculture has been in and out of the courts defending its professional decision. The “Noah” organization petitioned the District Court (sitting as a court of Administrative Affairs) seeking an injunction against the decision. The District Court upheld the appeal and the Ministry of Agriculture appealed to the Supreme Court. Late last week, however the Supreme Court accepted the position of the Ministry of Agriculture and ruled that public health took precedence over animal protection.