The uphill fight for animals in Iran

Being an animal lover and advocate can often be a very hard job. Seeing cruelty firsthand and knowing that often there is little you can do, can be extremely emotionally draining. Around the world, advocates are often fighting an uphill battle to save animals, but in some countries the fight is made even harder because of limited, or non existent, laws that offer even the most basic protection to animals..

YR feeding stray cats near her home

As part of our spotlight on global advocates, Animal Friendly Life spoke to YR*, who lives in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Western Asian nation lacks even the most basic animal cruelty legislation, and has a notoriously poor record when it comes to animal rights, holding the lowest possible ‘G’ rating on the World Animal Protection Index. YR speaks about how she came to be involved in animal welfare, and the challenges she faces going forward in a country with so much work to be done.

YR currently lives in Shiraz, an historic city in south-central Iran, and knew from a very young age that she wanted to dedicate her life saving animals and fighting the government for better laws to offer them protection from all-to-common cruelty.

Where did your love for animals start?

I have loved animals for as long as I remember. When I was a child my mum took in stray cats to take care of and feed. There are a lot of stray cats and dogs in Iran and, as I grew older, I learned to take care of all animals.

A number of years ago, I heard about the torturing of dogs in my home town of Shiraz by acid injections. Later some animal lovers started up a protest and I attended them. I met people who had animal shelters and that is where I started to help animals officially.

The first time I saved an up animal was when I saw a man holding a dog in a veterinary clinic. The dog had severe injuries due to a recent accident in a highway here, named “Hoseini Alhashemi”.

After a sonography test it came to our understanding that she had recently given birth. Me and a veterinary student walked around that highway with a mobile phone light, and we finally found nine beautiful puppies. We immediately picked them up and took them away to a garden out of the city. We and other support group members made them a house and fed them on a daily basis. Suddenly, the mother overcame the shock and licked her puppies. People who say animals don’t have a soul have to rethink.

So I kept the puppies until their doctor prescribed their vaccinations. When their mother became healthy I transferred them to a shelter and they lived happily ever after.

What are the biggest welfare issues you see facing animals in Iran?

Animals are simply not happy in Iran. None of them. There are so many welfare issues, from stray dogs and cats to the animals that are kept in the zoos.

So many drivers won’t slow down if there is a cat or a dog crossing the street and they hit them with their car. Some still think of dogs as unclean and I have videos on Instagram of people tying up dogs to their car while they drive, dragging them on the road. It still makes me cry when I think of it.

Animals in zoos are kept in the worst conditions. Small dirty cages with mouldy food and sludge water. Most of them are tied up and very sick. One of the worst things is that we wanted the municipality to do something about it and their answer was “animals are one of the problems of our town”.

Would you believe there is an official job in Iran for people hired to kill stray dogs? I believe that as long as the municipality hire people to kill animals we cannot change anything for the better. A couple of times they have had some punishment for some animal abusers, but only because animal lovers started to post about it on social media, and they just had these punishments so to shut people’s mouths. The truth is that there are no laws for animals in Iran. Dog owners cannot take their dogs for a walk because in Islam they are known as unclean and if police see someone walking a dog they can shoot or confiscate the dog.

What is your most passionate single issue when it comes to animal welfare?

To be true I have a special feeling for cats and I feel responsible for them, but it doesn’t mean that I discriminate between cats and other animals. Animal abusing is animal abusing no matter what the animal is. All of them can feel pain, hunger and thirst, as we do, and they deserve to be happy just like humans. There are some traditions in Islam which some people still follow. For example, they believe if they kill an animal, like a sheep or a chicken in ceremonies, or after buying something new and expensive, God won’t take the happiness away from them. I didn’t kill anything back when I bought my car, and I’m still alive and I have not had any accidents. These are just some superstitions that unfortunately some people still believe in.

If you could affect some sort of change in Iran in regards to animals, what would it be?

I’m saying this on behalf of all animal lovers not just me, we only want the government to ratify a new regulation against animal abusing. There are plenty of useless lands on the outskirts of the city. We want the municipality to rent us some of these lands as animal shelters. So that people do not pick on us saying these dogs and cats bring diseases, we will vaccinate them so they cause no harm for people. We don’t want any budget from the municipality, we will solve the financial issues between ourselves, as we are doing now.
Iran is still so far away from being a country where all people accept that animals deserve to live happy like all human beings. If only the municipality didn’t hold the same idea as these people everything would be better.

-The World Animal Protection Index ranks 50 countries according to their legislation and policy commitments to protecting animals. To find out more visit api.worldanimalprotection.org

*We are using the writer’s initials only for her protection.

/ by Jamie Wallace

Jamie Wallace is a Sydney-based police officer, media officer, and avid traveller, who is passionate about animal welfare and ethical travel experiences.