Talk about a doggie tale!
This story has it all. Religious zealots! Animal rights activists! Blood libel! Children! Ingredients that tend to nourish the more primitive regions of our minds. Best of all, it runs under 200 words and stars a dog.
The story’s only deficiency however, is that none of it is true.
Here’s what REALLY happened: A dog walked into a Jerusalem courtroom, and someone called the dogcatcher. THE END.
Here’s how the BBC reported it: A pooch made its way into a rabbinical court in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim. One of the judges, believing the dog to be the reincarnation of a now-deceased lawyer whom the court had cursed some two decades earlier, sentenced the dog to death by stoning, and ordered that the sentence be carried out by children. The dog escaped before the sentence could be carried out. Dog-lovers have filed a complaint against the court.
As it turns out, the BBC, along with Agence France Presse, Time Magazine, and a handful other news outlets got the story from Ynet, the website for Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s second-largest newspaper. Ynet’s story says that the head of the court denied that such an incident had taken place, a detail that was left out of the original BBC, Time, and AFP stories. The paper is also alone in noting that there was no official ruling, just a rabbi telling kids to throw rocks at a dog.
Ynet didn’t do any original reporting. They got the story from Behadrei Hadarim, a small Hebrew-language news outlet for Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community. The Bhadrei Hadarim’s reports that it got the story from someone who was present, but it doesn’t bother to give that person’s name.
Israel’s third-largest paper, which doesn’t have an English edition, also ran the story. They subsequently ran an apology, noting what the court said actually happened: A dog walked into a courtroom, and someone called the dogcatcher.
No one really knows how the reality got so blown out of proportion and how so many “reliable” news sources ran with it. What we do know however, is that dogs have enough problems without being dragged through the mud.