Nearly a hundred thousand stray animals – from dogs to donkeys – roaming an entire country.
One animal shelter.
For the whole country.
Can you imagine it?
In my opinion, it’s not wholly a financial issue. Iran is not a poor country. Their tiny wealthy/huge middle-to-low income ratio mirrors our own here in the U.S.
Neither do I think Iranians are heartless. They’re not. In fact, I found them overwhelmingly open-hearted and very conscientious.
So, when I posed the stray animal question during my trips there – to dozens of people from students to mullahs & government officials, from Tehran to the Caspian – I was not surprised by the varied answers I received.
I always asked specifically about dogs, since the majority of strays I saw throughout the country were emaciated dogs. Some Iranians had dogs in their homes, and loved them like family. Others felt that dogs were dirty, carried disease, and that the hair of dogs would contaminate the body of a person so that he/she would not be clean to pray.
Muslims are very hygienic, and a religious belief requires that they be especially so during prayer.
As my friend Orkideh explained to me one day while pulling me across a Tehran street to avoid a couple of stray dogs, “We cannot pray if we pass them; if they touch us, we cannot go to mosque.”
Which is where we were headed and, as I learned when we got there, praying is very serious business.
And cleanliness is vital.
The hem of the prayer cover I was given to place over my head & body fell to the floor – just the hem.
But Orkideh instantly snatched the garment off me, replacing it with a ‘clean’ one. She held the hem up for me as we walked into the inner mosque, to be sure it did not touch the ground again.
However, a couple of weeks later in Esfahan, I saw a man walking his dog between houses. During my whole month there thus far, I had not yet seen anyone anywhere walking a dog! I begged a friend to drag her husband along so that I could ask the man about his dog (I needed her husband to accompany me because a lone woman approaching a male stranger is not looked upon well in some areas). My friend and her husband were dumbfounded as to why I would care to ask about a dog, but the man with the dog understood completely.
He loved his dog, and told me there were plenty of Iranians like him. He explained to me that it was illegal in some parts of Iran to walk dogs publicly, but as long as he stayed out of sight – between houses – it was okay. However, he could walk his dog freely throughout most of Tehran, and at his summer home in the Caspian.
Every country has its own belief system about animals, and individuals in each nation will inevitably have his/her own value system within the national belief system.
The world over, the answer to any question depends on whom you ask.
Fatemeh Motamedi did not stop to ask anyone. She was on a mission to save strays. Including a donkey!
“It broke my heart seeing all those stray animals around me, and their struggles to find food. And I saw cruelty towards them. We need organizations and shelters to help them.”
Here are a couple of interesting articles about dogs in Iran:
And a couple of VAFA videos starring sweet pooches!
What’s your view about the strays of Iran?
Can you see this issue with new foreign eyes?