The Iranian government considers it a particularly depraved and un-Islamic vice: the keeping of pet dogs.
And if lawmakers in Tehran have their way, dog ownership may soon be considered a criminal act.
The proposed legislation for the first time outlines specific punishments for “the walking and keeping” of “impure and dangerous animals,” a definition that could feasibly include cats but for the time being seems targeted at dogs. The law would see the offending animal confiscated, the leveling of a $100-to-$500 fine on the owner, but leaves the fate of confiscated dogs uncertain. “Considering the several thousand dogs in Tehran alone, the problem arises as to what is going to happen to these animals,” Hooman Malekpour, a veterinarian in Tehran.
In past years, animal-rights activists in Iran have persuasively argued that sporadic campaigns against dog ownership are politically motivated and unlawful, since the prohibition against dogs surfaces in neither the country’s civil laws nor its Islamic criminal codes. Islam, by custom however, does consider dogs najes, or unclean, and for the past century cultural mores kept dog ownership down to minuscule numbers.
That has changed however, in the past 15 years with the rise of an urban middle class eager to mimic the Western culture they see on their satellite TVs where happy children frolic with dogs in parks and affluent families treat them like adorable children. These days, lap dogs rival designer sunglasses as the upper-middle-class Iranian’s accessory of choice.
Yet along with all of Iran’s other serious problems such as joblessness and the perilous state of the country’s economy, dog owners will soon have to ask themselves if keeping their Shih Tzu or Poodle is worth the added worry. Sadly if this proposed bill is passed, it seems their beloved dogs may face the same fate as the hundreds of street dogs that the government regularly sweeps from the streets of Tehran.
“Many in Tehran and other big cities find the killing of street dogs offensive and cruel,” says Omid Memarian, a prominent Iranian journalist specializing in human rights. “It’s like the Iranian people and officials live in two different worlds.”