TEHRAN: “No, my cat is not dangerous,” says Iranian animal lover Mostafa, outraged by a proposal by ultra-conservative lawmakers to ban pets.
The 25-year-old, who runs a pet supply store on busy Eskandari Street in central Tehran, is stunned.
“Crocodiles can be called dangerous, but how can rabbits, dogs and cats be dangerous?” he asked incredulously about the bill introduced a month ago.
The proposed law pits a growing number of people with pets against those who view the practice as decadent.
According to media reports, 75 deputies, or a quarter of parliamentarians, recently signed a text entitled “Support for the rights of the population in relation to harmful and dangerous animals”.
In their introduction, the authors condemn the practice of humans living under one roof with pets as a “destructive social problem.”
The phenomenon, they explain, could “gradually change the Iranian and Islamic way of life” by “replacing human and family relationships with feelings and affective relationships towards animals.”
The proposed law would prohibit “importing, breeding, assisting in the breeding, raising, buying or selling, transporting, driving or walking, and keeping in the home wild, exotic, harmful and dangerous animals.”
It lists the animals to be banned as “crocodiles, turtles, snakes, lizards, cats, mice, rabbits, dogs, and other unclean animals, as well as monkeys.”
Violators would risk a fine equivalent to 10 to 30 times the “minimum monthly labor wage” of about $98 and the “confiscation” of the animal.
In addition, the vehicles used to transport the animal would be seized for three months.
As Iran finds itself locked in difficult negotiations over its nuclear program and enduring a painful economic downturn due to US sanctions, the bill has sparked criticism in the press, mockery on social media and anger among residents of the capital.
“These projects will undoubtedly lead to chaos, corruption and collective disobedience to this law because … living with animals is now a cultural phenomenon,” warned the reformist daily Shargh.
Some netizens reacted with irony and sarcasm.
“How many times have cats sought to devour you for you to consider them wild, harmful and dangerous?” journalist Yeganeh Khodami asked on Twitter.
Another posted a photo of her kitten with the message: “I changed my cat’s name to ‘Criminal’ since I heard this bill.”
An actress who asked to remain anonymous said she had planned a demonstration against the pet ban plan in front of parliament, but later scrapped the idea due to pressure on her.
In the face of public outcry, few parliamentarians are willing to strongly defend the bill.
“I agree with the project in general, but I certainly do not agree with some of its clauses,” said the head of the parliament’s judicial commission, Moussa Ghazanfarabadi, who signed the text.
“It’s just a bill, but whether it goes through is another matter,” he told AFP.
Another lawmaker from Tehran, environmentalist Somayeh Rifiei, said she believes a law is needed on which animals can and cannot be kept.
“No one can deny the services that animals provide to humans, but this area must be regulated,” he said. “That is the basis of social life.”
She said that in addition to the pet ban bill, “the government has drafted a bill that gives special attention to biodiversity and wildlife. It is as much about animal rights as it is about human rights.
“Basically, I would prefer to see this bill on the agenda rather than a proposal that focuses only on criminalization.”
On Eskandari Street, vendors fear the consequences of such a law.
“It could destroy thousands of jobs,” said Mohsen, 34.
His wife Mina said she was more worried about her dog.
“Why should I imprison him at home?” she said of her canine companion. “MPs probably assume that today’s young couples don’t have children because they have a pet dog, but that’s stupid.
“It is not the dogs but the economic conditions that do not allow us to have children,” he added.
“At one point they banned satellite television, but people continued to use it, but with fear and anxiety. People will keep their animals at home to protect them.”