The country where owning a dog or cat could soon land you in jail | World

“He looks at me with his innocent, beautiful eyes. He’s asking me to take him for a walk, but I don’t dare. We’ll end up trapped.”

Iranian Mahsa has a dog, but now fears going out with him.

This is due to a new wave of seizures of domestic animals in Iran’s capital, Tehran.

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And the authorities are not just targeting pets, but also their owners, who can be arrested.

In Tehran, police recently announced that walking dogs in parks was a crime. The ban was justified as a measure to “protect the safety of the public”.

At the same time, the Iranian Parliament could soon pass the Bill on Protection of the Rights of the Public against Animals, which would restrict the possibility of having pets in general.

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Symbols of ‘Westernization’

Under the bill, the possession of pets would be subject to a permit issued by a special commission. It also imposes a minimum fine of around US$800 for the “import, purchase and sale, transport and maintenance” of various animals, including common pets such as cats, turtles and rabbits.

“Debates around this bill began more than a decade ago, when a group of Iranian parliamentarians tried to pass a law to confiscate all dogs and hand them over to zoos or leave them in deserts,” Payam Mohebi tells the BBC. , president of the Veterinary Association of Iran and a critic of the proposal.

“Over the years, they’ve changed it a few times and even discussed corporal punishment for dog owners. But their plan went nowhere.”

Owning dogs has always been common in rural areas of Iran, but animals also became a symbol of urban life in the 20th century.

Iran was one of the first Middle Eastern countries to pass animal welfare laws, in 1948, and the government funded the first institution to improve animal rights. Even the country’s former royal family had dogs as pets.

But the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which toppled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, changed many aspects of the lives of Iranians and their dogs.

Animals are considered unclean by Islamic tradition. In the eyes of the new regime, dogs also became a symbol of “Westernization”.

“There was no solid regulation of dog ownership,” Ashkan Shemirani, a veterinarian in Tehran, told the BBC.

“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.”

Shemirani says that the authorities even created a “prison” for the seized animals.

“We heard a lot of horror stories from that place,” he says. “The animals were kept for many days in open areas, without adequate food or water, while the dog owners went through all sorts of legal problems.”

Iran’s economic challenges after years of Western sanctions also help explain the new bill. Authorities have banned the import of pet food for more than three years as part of an effort to preserve the country’s foreign currency reserves.

In an industry dominated by foreign brands, this meant a substantial rise in prices, particularly after the emergence of an underground market.

“We are highly dependent on people who are secretly smuggling food,” the owner of a veterinary clinic in the town of Mashhad tells the BBC. “Prices are now five times what they were a few months ago.”

He claims that the feed produced locally is not of good quality.

“The quality is very bad. The factories use cheap meat or fish, even expired ingredients”, he says.

But the new legislation is not just for dogs. Cats are also included in a list of animals — even crocodiles are mentioned.

This is despite Iran being the birthplace of Persian cats, one of the most famous breeds in the world.

“Do you believe that now Persian cats are not safe in their homeland?” a veterinarian who lives in Tehran asks the BBC.

“There is no logic behind this law. Radicals want to show their iron fists to people.”

Mohebi, president of the Iranian Veterinary Association, describes the bill as “shameful”.

“If Parliament passes the law, generations to come will remember us as people who banned dogs because they are dogs and banned cats because they are cats.”

People like Mahsa are genuinely concerned about their pets’ future.

“I don’t dare ask permission to have my ‘child,'” she says. “What if they refuse my request? I can’t leave you on the street.”