Imagine a place where stray dogs are gunned down and viewed as a corrupting Western influence. This is the reality in Iran and a rare animal shelter in the countryside outside of Tehran is taking in homeless dogs and finding them homes to a growing number of Iranian animal lovers.middle east

There are many heavy restrictions and even bans on Western music and fashion in Iran and many traditionalist lawmakers view dogs as a malicious Western import. Cats on the other hand are held in high regard in Islamic tradition and community cats are fed and well cared for in much of the Muslim world.

Dogs are a much different story so the Vafa Animal Shelter was founded outside Tehran in 2004 through an endowment. Today it is the country’s only licensed animal refuge and houses more than 500 dogs.

“In our society, dogs are the most vulnerable animals,” the shelter manager Ali Sani told the Associated Press. “The dogs that are brought here used to be in urban environments and were struggling with problems and needed help.”

The shelter struggles to find homes for many of the dogs because many Iranians only want purebred dogs. It relies on public funding, but that is a battle as well because of Iran’s political climate. “We try and convince people to donate,” volunteer dog walker Homa Rashid told the Associated Press. “But unfortunately talking them into helping this shelter is a very difficult job, because most of them say as lo9ng as there are human being that need help, why should they help dogs.”

Vafa takes in dogs from municipal workers because most would be shot otherwise. It’s a tough life for dogs in Tehran. There are laws against them sticking their heads out of car windows and a ban on public-dog walking. Conservative lawmakers are attempting to push through a law to fine dog-walkers up to $3,000 ad give them 74 lashes.

“Dog owners sometimes bring them to public, in buses for example, or let the dog stick its head out of a car window to show it to others. That is unacceptable,” Iran parliament member Mohammad Ismail told the Associated Press. “What made us consider drawing up such a bill was the increasing number of those who exhibit dogs by walking them in public.”

Currently in Palm Coast, there is a debate going on about trap neuter and return programs the care of community cats. But when we keep talking about how we should handle our problems with homeless animals, let’s all try and be grateful we live in a place where animals are not shot down in the street and can be valued and seen as part of a family.