Iran is cracking down on people keeping dogs as pets, New Strait Times reports on June 11. Historically,” keeping dogs as pets has been rare and thus tolerated in Iran, where the Islamic beliefs cherished by the vast majority of traditional Iranians consider dogs as “najis”, or unclean,” the report states.
Guard dogs kept outside in yards, sheep dogs for herding, and hounds used in hunting have always been acceptable, but the soaring number of pets being acquired by a middle class now eager to imitate Western culture is reportedly causing increasing new alarm to Iranian authorities.
In June 2010, Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirzi labeled dog companionship as “a blind imitation” of Western culture,” warning that such behavior would lead to family corruption and damage societal values. “Many people in the West love their dogs more than their wives and children,” the Ayatollah told the media.
Those remarks, and a decree issued by Shirzi, resulted in the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance forbidding all media from publishing advertisements about pets, which included dog food and other supplies.
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These restrictions forced Iranian breeders to keep their dogs out of sight, but did not quash the evolving desire of especially younger Iranians to keep dogs in their homes as companions.
A 28-year-old woman, who would only identify herself as Nahal, exuded this new-found enthusiasm as she spoke about her two-year-old Pomeranian, “You see, for me, she is not only a pet but a family member,” she told NST.
Soroush Mobaraki, 34, a veterinary pharmacologist who owns a small clandestine pet shop in Tehran, says sales are booming despite fears the pooches might be “arrested” and their owners fined.
“There has been a sharp increase in demand for dogs in recent years, he told NST, “We sell 15 to 20 dogs a month, but I know some other traders who sell many more.”
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Mobaraki says many Iranians today boast about their pets, and some even show off in style. “They want to have a dog (to brag), like they want to have an expensive luxury car.”
But, reports of lap dogs dressed in Western designer pet clothing and sporting lavish accessories made popular by Hollywood stars and being ostentatiously driven in fancy cars or walked in parks in affluent neighborhoods in Tehran, have reportedly drawn the ire of hard-line clerics.
This growing un-Islamic trend is forcing Iranian police to reinforce and expand its crackdown on dogs, which until now has been only sporadic, according to the report.
Deputy Police Chief Ahmad Reza Radan declared in April 2013, “Police will confront those who walk their dogs in the streets. Cars carrying dogs will also be impounded,” the Fars news agency reported.
“We are not allowed to keep the dogs in pet shops,” said Mobaraki, who spoke from the safety of a garden outside Tehran. “I only bring them here when I have struck a deal in advance with the buyer."
IRAN’S SPCA PROTESTS “A WIDESPREAD ARREST OF DOGS”
In an equally Western “imitation,” animal-rights activists have questioned the legality of the crackdown.
“There are no laws that forbid dog ownership, or their transportation,” wrote the Iranian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in an open letter to Chief Esmail Ahmadi Moqadam, who is Deputy Radan’s superior, and has been Chiefof Iran's National Police Forces since 2006.
But there was no police response to the Society’s complaint against what it called “a widespread arrest of dogs,” in which dozens of pets have been taken to “undisclosed locations.”
Bahman Keshavarz, ex-head of the National Union of Iranian Court Attorneys, said pets can only be legally taken away if the owner fails to observe hygiene standards.
He was quoted in remarks to Bahar Daily on May 4, asserting that “Confiscating pets without a judicial verdict is unacceptable” and that owners can file for losses under the civil-liability law if their pet is taken away illegally.
NST reports that prior crackdowns ended in pet dogs being returned home after their owners paid a fine and signed a pledge to observe the “moral code.” But some say that is no longer the case.“Owners are being told that their dogs will be killed, and no paper (confirming the confiscation) is given to them,” Payam Mohebi, a Tehran pet hospital chief, told Bahar.
Thus, the police warnings and reported consequences have made an obvious change in the openness of dog lovers showing off their pets and enjoying them outdoors. Fears of seizure has effectively forced many to walk their animals in secluded areas and request home calls by veterinarians to avoid detection.
Nahal, the Pomeranian owner, told NST she and others are left with little choice and she now walks her little dog only at night.
“I don’t dare to take my dog out with me anymore,” said a middle-aged woman too fearful to give any name at a family picnic in a western Tehran park, “So we left her home today.”
THE INTERNET HAS ALSO BECOME IRANIAN DOG OWNERS’ “BEST FRIEND”
The 2010 ban on pet-related advertising, including for pet food and other items, has redirected some animal enthusiasts to the Internet.
“Most of our customers go on our website to pick the dog they want,” said Mobaraki, who refused to share his Internet address with New Straits Times for fear of retribution. "There they can even find useful information on different breeds and on how to take good care of pets, “he said.
In 2011, the online practice gained rapid popularity after lawmakers proposed a law to ban dogs from public places and even private flats, saying pet ownership posed “a cultural problem” as well as “a danger to public health.”
The bill, addressing a “growing number of dog owners”, specified that violators would be fined and “their animal confiscated.”
But, what may be seen as an underlying shift in political sensitivity and cultural modernization, the bill was never put to a vote because of opposition of some lawmakers, as well as animal rights activists.
NST reports that today Iranians can go online to find professional dog training schools, private trainers and even “dog hotels”, most of which boast international certificates and even experienced foreign trainers.
Popular social networking sites dedicating pages to dogs as pets, including Facebook, are becoming common and circumvent encounters with enforcement authorities.
POPULARITY OF DOGS RESULTING IN IRANIAN “PUPPY MILLS”?
Sadly, there is a downside to the expanding market for dogs--a Western scourge may also be accompanying the new-found revenue source, according to reports--puppy mills.
Breeder Amirhossein, 42, from the central city of Isfahan, said some of his competitors keep their animals in cramped, dirty conditions without sufficient veterinary care, NST reports.
There are also claims of false advertising, he says. “The websites attract dog buyers with irresistible pictures and phony promises, “but the dog you get may not be the one you picked.”