The Iranian parliament looks set to approve the Protection of the Public’s Rights Against Animals bill, which would make pet ownership illegal without a special permit. Those found in contravention of this new law would be subject to fines starting at around $800 (£670).
Animals requiring an ownership permit include common domestic pets including cats, turtles and rabbits. Pet owners’ applications would not be guaranteed to be approved.
This after police in Tehran banned walking dogs in public parks as a way to “protect the safety of the public”, the BBC reported earlier this week.
Dr. Payam Mohebi, president of the Iran Veterinary Association and an opponent of the bill, told the BBC: “Debates around this bill started more than a decade ago, when a group of Iranian MPs tried to promote a law to confiscate all dogs and give them to zoos or leave them in deserts.”
“Over the years, they have changed this a couple of times and even discussed corporal punishment for dog owners. But their plan didn’t get anywhere.”
This even though Iran was one of the first Middle Eastern countries to pass animal welfare laws – back in 1948 when the then-government funded the first organization that supported animal welfare. The country’s royal family was known to have pet dogs. However, the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which saw the ruling regime overthrown, changed the country’s stance on pets.
Not only do some consider animals impure according to Islamic law, but the country’s new regime considered pet ownership one of the symbols of ‘Westernization’ – something it sought to root out.
Dr. Ashkan Shemirani, a Tehran-based veterinarian, told the BBC: “There has not been a solid regulation around owning dogs. Police forces arrest people for walking their dogs or even carrying them in their cars based on their interpretation of what could be seen as symbols of Westernization.” He added that the authorities have even created a “prison” for seized pets, from which countless “horror stories” have emerged.
“The animals were kept for many days in open areas without proper food or water while the dog owners were going through all kinds of legal trouble,” he said.
Pet food has also become extremely difficult to obtain in the country, and expensive. Sanctions against the West have seen the import of pet food banned for the past three years, which has pushed up prices of inferior local-brand pet food. Vets report that they rely on bootleggers who smuggle pet food in illegally and that prices are now “five times higher” than they were just a few months ago.
In the most ironic twist of all, because the ban is aimed at all manner of animals, Persian cats may now be outlawed in their very country of origin. “Can you believe that now Persian cats are not safe in their homeland?”, a Tehran-based vet said to the BBC.
Local vets are calling the proposed law “embarrassing” – an opinion with which Network for Animals (NFA) strenuously agrees. “Not only is the proposed ban an embarrassment to the nation of Iran, but it shows a lack of empathy, compassion and humanity towards living, sentient beings – beings who bring happiness and comfort to people everywhere,” said David Barritt, executive director of NFA.
“We may not be able to stop this law being passed, but we deeply condemn it, and we can and will continue our work in the Middle East to help care for as many desperate animals as we can reach.”