Criminal cats? Iran's proposed pet ban sparks outrage

The ban would affect "crocodiles, turtles, snakes, lizards, cats, mice, rabbits, dogs and other unclean animals as well as monkeys."

 Maryam Talaee, an animal lover, plays with her dog at home in Tehran, Iran December 20, 2019. (photo credit: NAZANIN TABATABAEE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)
Maryam Talaee, an animal lover, plays with her dog at home in Tehran, Iran December 20, 2019.
(photo credit: NAZANIN TABATABAEE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)

Outrage was sparked in Iran after the government proposed a law in November that would ban pets in the country.

The law, named Protection of the Public's Rights Against Animals, was proposed by 75 hardliner legislators and introduced in November, described people living with animals as a "destructive social problem," and bans "importing, raising, assisting in the breeding of, breeding, buying or selling, transporting, driving or walking, and keeping in the home wild, exotic, harmful and dangerous animals," according to AFP. However, the definition of "harmful and dangerous animals" does not strictly cover animals typically deemed as such.

According to the AFP, the ban would affect "crocodiles, turtles, snakes, lizards, cats, mice, rabbits, dogs and other unclean animals as well as monkeys."

Those punished by this ban, if it passes into law, would face a fine said to be equivalent to 10-30 times the minimum monthly working wage, loss of the animal and, for three months, the vehicles used to transport it, according to AFP.

So why is Iran proposing this ban?

A puppy is shown looking up. Studies have shown that oxytocin levels spike when humans and their dogs gaze into each others' eyes (credit: Courtesy)A puppy is shown looking up. Studies have shown that oxytocin levels spike when humans and their dogs gaze into each others' eyes (credit: Courtesy)

According to Iranian parliamentarian Mohammad-Taghi Naghdali, it has to do with danger.

Speaking to the Didban-e Iran news website, Naghdali said that the law was due to the danger of dogs. Dogs, he said, can cause nuisance and harm" to people, and said a dog recently killed children in a park in the country's capital. 

Indeed, dogs are something many in Iran have focused on for a while, and are said to be the main concern behind the bill.

The city of Tehran banned animals from public spaces after a report in July in the newspaper Kayhan called dog-walking a "major problem," according to Iran International.

The idea itself could be said to be rooted in Islamic law, where dogs are thought of as being impure. Indeed, other Muslim countries have restrictions against canine companions. 

In Saudi Arabia, for example, those who wish to bring pets need to provide a number of documents and permits, but dogs can only be brought in if they are considered hunting dogs, guard dogs or seeing-eye dogs, and many breeds considered dangerous and aggressive such as Pit Bulls and Rottweilers can never enter the country "under any circumstances," according to the Saudi Embassy in the US website.

However, within Iran, dogs have been common for years in certain areas, specifically in farms and in more rural parts of the country. However, they have become more popular as pets in recent years.

According to RadioFreeEurope, this is because they have become a sign of affluence. 

But they have always been controversial since 1979 when the Islamic Revolution overthrew the shah and established the current theocratic government. In the decades since, owning dogs has been considered "morally depraved" and a problematic sign of Westernization. In July, Iranian chief prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said that loving dogs is part of the "degenerate culture of the West," and "should not be part of Muslims' lives," according to RadioFreeEurope.

Dogs, in particular, have faced cruel fates in Iran in the past, with images that circulated on social media in recent years depicting stray dogs dying in agony or brutally beaten by the authorities, something that had actually sparked protests in 2019, according to RadioFreeEurope.

"Dogs are our best friends, maybe they don't want friends?" commented Gadi Vinter, spokesperson for the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Israel (SPCA) in response to the proposed law. "But here in Israel, there are lots of people, religious people, who have problems with dogs."

Indeed, even in the Jewish state, there are those that take issue with dogs, especially among the haredi community, which hold that dogs are religiously unclean.

In 2019, dozens of rabbis from the city of Elad, including Chief Rabbi Mordechai Malka, signed an edict declaring that all dogs are inherently bad and keeping them will make one accursed.

“We have heard and have seen that lately, a serious phenomenon has spread in our city Elad, in which young boys and children walk around publicly with dogs. This is strictly forbidden. As explained in the Talmud and by the Rambam, anyone raising a dog is accursed,” the anti-canine edict states.

Elad was not the only city whose rabbis spoke out against man's best friend.

“I do not find any grounds for permitting any dog whatsoever in any manner,” stated Holon's Rabbi Avraham Yosef. 

This is despite Tel Aviv being thought of by many as the most dog-friendly city in the world.

Artemis, a kitten formerly living on the streets, is now in a loving home. (credit: Shira Silkoff)Artemis, a kitten formerly living on the streets, is now in a loving home. (credit: Shira Silkoff)

But while Iran's ban against dogs may be rooted in decades of political issues and in Islamic law, banning other pets, especially cats, is another story.

Unlike dogs and pigs, cats have been typically been beloved in the Muslim world. In fact, according to some hadiths, the prophet Muhammad actually outlawed killing or persecuting cats. 

The feline friends are present in Muslim countries all over the world, with a spokesperson for Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even saying in 2020 that cats are welcome in all of the country's mosques. 

Even in Iran, cats are far from a rare sight in rural and urban areas alike. However, this new law seeks to change even that.

Consequently, outrage was sparked online, criticizing this ban to outlaw beloved feline friends for being supposedly "dangerous."

"How many times have cats sought to devour you so that you consider them wild, harmful and dangerous?" Iranian journalist Yeganeh Khodami said on Twitter, according to AFP.

Another social media user joked that they would rename their kitten "Criminal" in response to the law, according to AFP.

Many nations around the world have some laws restricting cat ownership, such as making them need to be kept indoors at all times, but banning them outright is nearly unheard of.

Further, even domesticated cats are fully capable of living in the wild, with many countries around the world having large feral cat populations.

Israel, for example, has, according to some estimates, a feral cat population of over two million.

Iran, too, is no exception, especially in Tehran, where stray cats are said to be frequently present.

But what this proposed ban means for the fates of these felines remains uncertain.