“Iran’s stray dogs find rare refuge”

“Iran’s stray dogs find rare refuge”

December 11, 2014, Ottawa Citizen, by Nasser Karimi

Islamic tradition holds cats in high esteem; but not so with dogs in Iran where stray dogs are often seen as a public nuisance and city workers shoot them on sight. The conservative view is that pet dogs are a “corrupting western influence” and a “pernicious western import”. Conservative lawmakers suggest that dog ownership be banned or strictly regulated as is western music and fashion. But all is not lost for four-footed friends who are lucky enough to find themselves in a rare animal shelter in the countryside west of Tehran where more than 500 pooches have discovered care and affection at the Vafa Animal Shelter. The only licensed refuge in the whole country, this haven was established in 2004 as a result of an endowment. Ali Sani, the shelter’s manager, remarked “In our society, dogs are the most vulnerable animals. The dogs that are brought in here used to be in urban environments and were struggling with problems and needed help.”

Although stray dogs are at risk of being shot by city workers, household pets are not much better off. Dog-walking has been banned, as is bringing the dogs in public, and drivers are not permitted to let their dogs stick their head out the car windows. A previous attempt by Iranian lawmakers to enact legislation forbidding dog-walking failed; but recently a draft bill has been proposed that would punish dog-walkers with a fine of up to $3000 USD and 74 lashes. One of the legislators who supported these regulations, Mohammad Ismail Kowsari, explained that the reason for the suggested new regulations is the increasing number of those Iranians who exhibit their dogs by walking them in public. He added that dog ownership itself will not be criminalized as long as the owners keep their dog indoors.

A culture war in Iran that commenced in 1979 and toppled the government of the Shah has adversely affected dog ownership; but conservatives have met with resistance particularly from younger, urban and more well-off Iranians who helped elect the relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani in 2013. However, Shelter Manager Sani said that generally the authorities have been supportive of the shelter’s work because it takes in strays and spay-neuters them.