Lunch Break: The latest enemies of Iran – dogs and their owners
April 21st, 2011
01:30 PM ET

Lunch Break: The latest enemies of Iran – dogs and their owners

By Azadeh Moaveni, TIME

For much of the past decade, the Iranian government has tolerated what it considers a particularly depraved and un-Islamic vice: the keeping of pet dogs.

During periodic crackdowns, police have confiscated dogs from their owners right off the street; and state media has lectured Iranians on the diseases spread by canines. The cleric Gholamreza Hassani, from the city of Urmia, has been satirized for his sermons railing against "short-legged" and "holdable" dogs. But as with the policing of many other practices (like imbibing alcoholic drinks) that are deemed impure by the mullahs but perfectly fine to many Iranians, the state has eventually relaxed and let dog lovers be.

Those days of tacit acceptance may soon be over, however.

Lawmakers in Tehran have recently proposed a bill in parliament that would criminalize dog ownership, formally enshrining its punishment within the country's Islamic penal code. The bill warns that that in addition to posing public health hazards, the popularity of dog ownership "also poses a cultural problem, a blind imitation of the vulgar culture of the West."

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 [that are kept] in Tehran alone, the problem arises as to what is going to happen to these animals," Hooman Malekpour, a veterinarian in Tehran, said to the BBC's Persian service. If passed, the law would ultimately energize police and volunteer militias to enforce the ban systematically.

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 surfaces in neither the country's civil laws nor its Islamic criminal codes. But if Iran's laws were silent for decades on the question of dogs, that is because the animals — in the capacity of pet — were as irrelevant to daily life as dinosaurs.

Islam, by custom, considers dogs najes, or unclean, and for the past century cultural mores kept dog ownership down to minuscule numbers. In rural areas, dogs have traditionally aided shepherds and farmers, but as Iranians got urbanized in the past century, their dogs did not come along. In cities, aristocrats kept dogs for hunting and French-speaking dowagers kept lap dogs for company, but the vast majority of traditional Iranians, following the advice of the clergy, were leery of dogs and considered them best avoided.

That has changed in the past 15 years with the rise of an urban middle class plugged into and eager to mimic Western culture. Satellite television and Western movies opened up a world where happy children frolicked with dogs in parks and affluent families treated them like adorable children. These days, lap dogs rival designer sunglasses as the upper-middle-class Iranian's accessory of choice. "Global norms and values capture the heart of people all around the world, and Iran is no exception," says Omid Memarian, a prominent Iranian journalist specializing in human rights. "This is very frightening for Iranian officials, who find themselves in a cultural war with the West and see what they're offering as an 'Islamic lifestyle' failing measurably."

Read more at TIME.

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Topics: Culture

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    "These days, lap dogs rival designer sunglasses as the upper-middle-class Iranian's accessory of choice. " it's sometimes abominable, how some owners in the West treat their animals.
    I love dogs and cats, if they are kept appropriately, like they should. It's not the animals fault, if they are being demeaned by humans.

    April 20, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  2. IranianDoucheBags

    Make them wear Barkas.

    April 20, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Reply
  3. jonathan_gullible

    Iran? How about in the US?
    doghomicide dot com

    April 20, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Reply
  4. Laila

    Only Shia Iranians have these strict restrictions against dogs. It has to do with history as in Zoroastrianism, the dog was considered holy.. Seems like over time, they took to an opposite extreme in order to shed Zoroastrian past..

    April 20, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Reply
    • omida

      This is the first time I am hearing Dogs were holy in ancient Iran. Any sources?

      April 22, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Reply
    • heidi

      Yes, would like to learn more your insight with dogs in Zoroastrianism please! I know ancient Persia actually revered dogs. Sad that modern muslim clerics created fear and intolerance around man's partnership with dogs. Persia is steeped in dog history – some of the oldest breeds in the world hailed from this great culture.

      April 25, 2011 at 3:58 am | Reply
      • Jason

        This is a bunch of BS. Not only do they not hate dogs in Iran there are multiple dog training centers even owned by the government. I saw a segment on dog training on Iranian TV even (posted below) What is discouraged is these rich snooty Kim Kardashian wannabees from north Tehran who buy dogs only as Fashion accessories, and give them stupid names like "JiJi" or "Coco" but dont bother to take them to the vet, walk them, or brush their teeth, then abandon them when they grow tired of them.
        [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries&w=640&h=390]

        August 29, 2012 at 1:18 am |
  5. NewBlogger

    How about those ridiculous homeowner associations that ban pets after the owners pay good money to buy their home? I'd rather deal with the Iranian government than the stubborn bums on the association board.

    April 20, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Reply
  6. Holly

    I guess just like woman's hair seeing a bare back of a dog makes these mullahs horny.

    April 21, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Reply
  7. caninelillie

    See my bed bug dog “Lillie” finding bed bugs on YouTube
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqjYKtkQIgM&w=640&h=390]

    April 21, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Reply
  8. elnorachavez225

    Giving away freebies and free samples is the best way for companies to introduce their products to you. Best place is "123 Get Samples" Best of all, there is no obligation on your part.

    April 22, 2011 at 5:32 am | Reply
  9. shari

    Iranian Goverment does not respect its own people......how could they care about dogs ................

    April 23, 2011 at 12:08 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      It makes people in some parts of the world very sad to see that, animals in the West are better treated than they in their own countries.

      April 23, 2011 at 3:32 am | Reply
  10. BringBackPersia

    We are witnessing another revolution in Iran. The people are resisting the fascist government cowards that hide behind the Koran as justification for exploiting them. They don't want the people to have any means of self defense if they decide to send the stormtroopers into their house in the middle of the night. The Iranians should overthrow their corrupt government.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  11. Ahmed Johnson

    Muslims hate dogs. For centuries they kick and throw stones at them. Islamic hatred of the poor dog dates back to the 6th century. It is said that a dog interfered with Mohammed's marriage to the 8 year old Aisha. As most muslim women, Aisha was disagreable and refused to consumate her marriage to the Prophet Mohammed. Mohammed, angry at her refusal, pursued the child down the street. He would have caught her but for a pile of dog-doo that he stepped in and slipped on. This is why the muslims teach their children to hate the dog and to throw stones at them.

    Yet the dog still lives – does it not? This is because of the muslim woman: secretive and crafty she always defies the man (Just like Aisha) by feeding stray dogs when the man aren't looking. This is because a dog helped 8 year old Aisha escape the lawful demands of her 50 year old husband Prophet Mohammed.

    may peace be upon the Prophet...and may peace be upon his many child brides.

    May 10, 2011 at 5:50 am | Reply
  12. Quarant

    I am with the Iranian Government on this one. Dog owners tend to be an ignorant bunch, forcing others to "love" their pet.

    May 10, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Reply

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