Lifestyle & Belief

Iranian dog lovers dodge cleric's fatwa on pooch ownership


Iranian dog lover Neda plays with a dog at the Vafa animal shelter in the town of Hashtgerd, about 40 miles west of the capital Tehran on June 30, 2011.


Behrouz Mehri

Iran's clergy has been moved to remind people, almost a year to the day, that dogs are "unclean" and should not be kept as pets — but tell that to dog lovers in the Islamic state.

And according to the Wall Street Journal, there are many of them, frequenting "popular websites like Woof Woof Iran Digital Pets and Persianpet to pick their favorite canine, study dog grooming or swap pet tales."

Despite a law banning the sale or purchase of dogs, unless they are for police or farm use, "It's the latest fashion now to buy each other puppies as birthday gifts," the Journal quotes Amin, 25, as saying.

Amin reportedly bought a German Shepherd puppy in a village two hours outside Tehran.

Businessmen Ali Shekouri, 32, meanwhile told the Journal that he went to greater lengths, to the point that: "After a while I didn't know if I was buying a dog or dealing in an international drug trade."

Dogs are considered "haram," or "unclean," under Islamic tradition. In 2010, Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi issued a fatwa — or religious ruling — against dog ownership.

"Friendship with dogs is a blind imitation of the West," Reuters reported him as saying at the time, quoting as saying in Javan daily. "There are lots of people in the West who love their dogs more than their wives and children."

In April, Iran's parliament made dog ownership a criminal offense, to combat "vulgar Western culture."

First-time offenders face a five million rial (close to $500) fine and will be given a 10-day period to get rid of the dog or face the canine's confiscation to an unknown fate.

But by accounts, it hasn't deterred Iranians willing to pay up to $10,000 for a puppy on sites like Rashtpet and Petpars. And access to satellite TV has turned dog ownership into a sign of social status in Iran, according to the WSJ.

Illicit pets are in some cases smuggled in from Ukraine on passenger flights, the Journal reports, adding that:

The flight from Ukraine to Tehran has been nicknamed "the puppy flight" because many of its passengers, mostly university students, are carrying puppies for sale, according to several pet website owners who import from Ukraine.

Nor has the fatwa deterred "Neda," who runs an animal shelter in Hashtgerd, west of Tehran called VAFA. The charity's website points out that dogs have roamed the Iranian plateau for thousands of years and they have been depicted on the pottery pieces found near the walls of Persepolis.