Sderot’s first national dog competition will be held this coming Monday, April 6. Those who have trained the dogs for this competition are not the typical life-long dog trainers. At-risk youth and children with development disabilities who participated a special dog training program initiated by Chavat HaChayot, an animal organization based outside of Ashdod, will get to show off their dog handling skills in front of parents and judges.
The contestants hail from all over Israel-Ashdod, Ramat HaSharon, Netanya, Rishon LeTziyon, and Jerusalem as well as Sderot. Chavat HaChayot, an organization based in Moshav Bet Ezra, offers dog-training programs for children with challenging backgrounds. This is the fourth year the program has run in Sderot and its fifth year nationwide.
Over 100 teenagers will be taking part in the dog-handling competition in Sderot. They hail from Ashdod, Ramat HaSharon, Netanya, Rishon LeTziyon.
In Sderot, there are 10 at-risk participants, ages 13-17, who have taken part in the weekly sessions and have learned how to become dog trainers. “Sderot is one the most important cities that we visit. Because of the constant Qassam rockets, youth in Sderot are especially vulnerable.” says Paul Makias, the Chavat HaChayot’s director. Makias travels with a team of dogs and professional handlers to different cities around Israel, offering dog handling skills to youth.
“Sderot is different from the other cities, in that this city is frequently targeted by Qassam rockets. We see how this affects the children here, in addition to the problems they have at home,” says Matias.
The dog training gives the children another tool to deal with life and the terror of rockets. “By teaching Sderot kids how to build a relationship with a do during these training sessions, the kids begin to rebuild their sense of confidence which has been shattered by their personal situation at home and their terror of the sirens and rocket attacks,” says Avi Benita, a trained social worker who works with the Sderot youth alongside Matias.
“Our dogs are well familiar with the sound of the Tzeva Adom and the rocket explosions,” says Avi. “When the siren alarm sounds, the kids and the dogs enter a bomb shelter nearby our training location and wait for the rocket explosion to pass. The dogs sense the danger of the incoming rocket but they also sense the fear of the children,” says Avi.
“By having the dogs around the children during those moments, these Sderot kids feel slightly more at ease when the siren sounds. Nonetheless, the experience is scary for all of us every time the alarm sounds and a Palestinian rocket explodes.”
“Even with the escalation of rocket fire and during the Gaza war, these kids continued to train with their dogs,” Matias told Sderot Media Center. “They are very excited about this competition and are looking forward to meeting the other youth coming to Sderot from around the country.”
Sderot was chosen as the location of the national competition because the Sderot Muncipality along with the Sderot and Ashdod Revenue Departments decided to sponsor the competition.
The winners from the national competition in Sderot will advance to the international levels.
Photos: Hamutal Ben Sheetrit