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Jewish Journal

A Canine Commencement

by Tom Tugend

October 24, 2002 | 8:00 pm

A black Labrador retriever, proudly bearing Israeli and American flags, joined several dignitaries on stage this month to celebrate the first graduation exercise of Pups for Peace.

The ceremony marked the end of an intensive two-month training course for 20 dogs -- Belgian and German shepherds and Labrador retrievers -- who will soon see service in the Jewish State as explosive-sniffing canines to foil would-be terrorists.

Sharing the honors were the dogs' human companions, 14 young Israeli soldiers and policemen, who also helped build the training site and kennels at a well-guarded Los Angeles location.

The project, initially conceived by Dr. Glenn Yago just six months ago, set a record for red-tape cutting and fundraising on both the American and Israeli sides.

Yago's goal is to send 1,000 trained dogs a month to Israel, "enough to form a screen across the country," said veteran trainer Mike Herstik, director of canine operations.

The cost for training one man-dog team is $10,000. Close to $1 million has been raised so far from 300 donors, foremost the Jews in Crisis Fund of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which presented a check for $675,000.

Consul General Yuval Rotem, expressing his thanks on behalf of Israel, said that, "By enhancing our security and saving lives, you are keeping our hopes alive."

A tour of the kennels showed the dogs barking and leaping vigorously, a performance that gave Rabbi Dan Shevitz a good feeling. "The Talmud tells us that when dogs howl, the Angel of Death is coming," he observed. "But when dogs frolic, they foreshadow the arrival of the Prophet Elijah and the promise of eternal life."

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