The Rise of Pets In Unlikely Places

Whatever you think of the nuclear deal between and Iran and The West, one thing is for certain: one of the long-term effects of the now-lifting economic sanctions has been an increase in pet ownership by Iranian citizens. This flies in the face of a 2013 Tehran police edict that anyone caught with a pet faces stiff punishment and confiscation of their pet.

Social scientists speculate that the rise in pet ownership among Iranians of all religions is directly related to the shrinking of family size resulting from long-term financial belt-tightening among the middle and upper classes. As couples have chosen to have fewer children, they’ve turned more toward dogs and cats to “bring a welcome measure of comfort,” Fariborz Raisdana, an economic researcher in Tehran, told The Los Angeles Times.

Pets have brought “happiness [to] isolated Iranian families,” Raisdana said. People are given “the chance to take refuge in their pets as friends who are faithful, trustworthy and reliable - qualities they don’t always find among their fellow human beings.”

The proliferation of pets within a culture that has traditionally regarded them as “unclean” has been met with a corresponding growth in resources for pets. Though official data of pet ownership is unavailable, the number of animal clinics and hospitals has reportedly tripled in Tehran over the past there years. Some hotels offer temporary housing for pets while grocery store shelves brim with pet food. The Iran SPCA works feverishly to promote animal welfare and keep pets and families together.

But not everyone in Iran and in the Islamic world at large feels warm and fuzzy about the rise of the warm-and-fuzzy. While the keeping of dogs for working purposes is tolerated, conservative Islamic clerics admonish the faithful against adding four-legged members to their families: “ . . . these days people regard pets as equal to their children . . ,” said Hasan Rashidizadeh, director of the Jafarieh seminary in Tehran. “Culturally, we need to manage this society and teach people not to fulfill a true need with a false solution.”

In years past, many of the faithful have adhered to this monolithic view of the family construct and taken license, in the name of Islam, to rid their world of animal companions. Dr Ayoub Banderker, a veterinary surgeon, and contributing writer for, cites historic spikes in euthanasia of perfectly happy and healthy companion animals during the holy time of Ramadan. Fortunately, this trend has decreased in recent years as Dr. Banderker, and other sane crusaders on behalf of animal companions, combat “ignorant views.”

“In the Holy Qur’an (S4:36) we are advised to do good to ‘ . . . what your right hands own,’” writes Dr. Banderker. “ . . . this refers to all those who have no civil rights, including animals.” Dr. Banderker believes that among the duties incumbent upon Muslins is ensuring that pets are spayed or neutered, have proper food, shelter and social opportunities and that efforts be made to find the animal a new home in the event the family can no longer care for the pet.

Progressive as Dr. Banderker’s views are relative to Islamic conservatives, many Middle-Eastern dogs and cats do not enjoy the same closeness to humans as Western pets. For example, while it is not considered haraam (prohibited by the Qur’an) to own a pet, it is considered unhygienic to keep one in the home. Moreover, Islamic custom commands that any body part or article of clothing that comes in contact with pet saliva must be immediately washed.

Though it is tempting for me to bristle at such religious customs, I must remind myself that parts of the Middle East appear to be undergoing a paradigm shift toward the acceptance of and love for companion animals. That shift, however modest by Western standards, should be encouraged and celebrated.