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Iran's First and Only Animal Shelter

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Woof! Woof! from Tehran: Iran's First and Only Animal Shelter

iranian.com, News feature, Debra J. White, Posted: Feb 08, 2009

A mother dog with puppies hides between rocks in a barren part of the Iranian desert. A car rams a stray dog and leaves it to die on a busy highway. There's a donkey with nowhere to go.

Thousands of dogs and cats roam the cities, towns and back roads of Iran. Nearly all are unsterilized and reproduce. Almost all are strays. No laws exist that punish animal abusers. Without animal control or a network of shelters, the cycle of misery continues.

The outlook for homeless animals changed in 2003 because of animal lover and former Tehran resident Mrs. Fatemeh Motamedi. As a child, Motamedi grew up feeling empathy for all living creatures. "It broke my heart seeing all those stray animals around me and their struggles to find food. And I saw cruelty towards them, like ropes around their necks and things that made me think we need organizations and shelters to help them."

And help she did. Motamedi founded the Center for Animal Lovers (VAFA), an advocacy group to improve conditions for stray and unwanted animals in Iran. Although Motamedi and her husband now live in Canada they were instrumental in founding VAFA, Iran's first and only animal shelter. Motamedi's husband donated land that houses the shelter. The couple also raises money for animal care. And Motamedi is an outspoken advocate for animal issues in Iran.

Located about an hour's drive outside of Tehran, Iran's capital and largest city, VAFA is headed by Mrs. Lida Esnaashari, who serves as the director and manager. She also cleans the shelter. Not only does Esnaashari know each dog by name, she's on top of their history. Most VAFA residents are street dogs rescued by Good Samaritans. Others are abused, such as a big fluffy dog named Stevie, after the American singer Stevie Wonder.

"I saw an extremely thin yellow dog in the middle of the street," says Esnaashiri, who along with a shelter colleague jumped out of the car for a closer look. "He was too weak to run. He had mange and an injury on his head like he had been beaten." The two women drove the dog back to the shelter where Dr. Gholam Reza Abedi performed emergency surgery. Dr. Abedi saved Stevie's life but not his sight. Stevie is mostly blind just like the American singer he's named after. Despite the abuse, Stevie is a loving, friendly dog who wants to be hugged.

VAFA is home to at least 198 dogs. The cats and the lone donkey were moved recently to a separate location. There was too much stress on the cats and dogs living together and the donkey was lonely. However, a small paid staff cares for the dogs with the help of dedicated, caring volunteers. VAFA relies entirely on donations and gifts of cash, supplies and food.

In fact, Niloofar Ashgharian, an Iranian citizen and alumnus of Tarrant County College in Ft. Worth, TX, volunteers at her local animal shelter. Mindful of the situation for unwanted animals back home, Ashgharian held fundraisers for VAFA. "We are very fortunate to be in the US, and to be able to do what we do," says Ashgharian. "I couldn't even imagine what this shelter (VAFA) is going through to make ends meet." Ashgarian's American colleagues and friends support her efforts through generous donations.

VAFA has grown since its inception six years ago. Twenty additional dog areas were added to serve as separation units for new arrivals to test them for disease and temperament. Without cages all dogs roam free. There were other accomplishments as well. Drs. Abedi and Molookpour Hooman spayed and neutered 300 dogs and 100 cats in 2007 to curb pet overpopulation.

Challenges will always abound. For example, government can be hostile to pet owners, especially those with dogs. Too many people see dogs as Western fetishes that collide with Islamic values. A recent announcement on Radio Free Europe alleged that Iranian authorities would clamp down on dog owners walking their pets in public because it was against the law.

According to Merritt Clifton, an American journalist who is also editor of Animal People, the Hadiths supposedly forbid dog ownership. But Clifton and other scholars question those strict interpretations and suggest that Muhammed�s imposition of a quarantine referred to an outbreak of rabies in Media at the time. The Prophet Muhammad also said that "whoever is kind to the creatures of Allah is kind to himself." Dogs and cats are creatures of Allah.

The staff and volunteers at VAFA continue to spread messages about kindness and compassion towards all animals. They are determined to improve conditions for street dogs and cats and free them from a life of starvation, sickness and abuse. Motamedi and the shelter she founded make a difference for the unwanted, maltreated and homeless animals in Iran.

To adopt from VAFA, there is no charge although donations are always welcome. Potential owners are screened to make sure they will provide the pet with a loving, responsible home. VAFA always welcomes new volunteers.


*For more information please visit their website at: www.cal.ir

Because of sanctions, American citizens might have problems sending donations. Please check with your bank for options.

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