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.