Yet, as is the case of many other “illegal” activities in Iran, the threat of punishment doesn’t eradicate the action, but rather, pushes it underground, where many Iranians have made an art out of evading authorities and maneuvering loopholes. In the case of dogs, criminalizing them has only created a doggy black market, and the buyers are willing to pay big for what they can’t have. Buying a puppy in Iran can cost anywhere between $500 and $10,000, and the trade is so covert, vendors will sometimes blindfold buyers before taking them to the kennel. “After a while I didn’t know if I was buying a dog or dealing in an international drug trade,” said businessman Ali Shekouri.
“It’s the latest fashion now to buy each other puppies as birthday gifts,” 25-year-old Amin told the Wall Street Journal. He recently bought a German Shepard puppy in a village two hours outside of Tehran.
The sale typically starts online, where popular websites such as Woof Woof Iran Digital Pets, and Persianpet, offer resources and outlets on buying, grooming, and even bragging about the illicit pet pooch. Potential buyers are interviewed, screened, even interrogated to make sure they are not part of the secret police. Importing dogs is illegal, but Iranians traveling from other countries are allowed to bring their pets on commercial flights, so websites like Rashtpet and Petpars smuggle puppies into the country by paying these Iranians to claim the pets as theirs. The practice is common enough that flights from Ukraine have been nicknamed “puppy flights” because of the number of “claimed” dogs it brings into the country. Some dogs are smuggled in as cargo on tour buses and trucks coming in from Armenia and Turkey.
“We have a large and very capable network expanding from Iran to Europe and beyond to help unite Iranians with dogs,” claims the owner of Petpars.
It’s also a network that unites Iranians with both the virtual world and the domestic realm, where they have more freedom behind closed doors than in public spaces. If you can’t change a law, you might as well give it the finger. By banning dogs, the government turned them into novelties, because with them comes not just the desire to emulate the West, but also the urge to defy the Iranian government. Sometimes passive aggression speaks louder than outright protest.
Photo courtesy of Hamed Saber via flickr.
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