My dog stinks even after a bath

My dog stinks even after a bath

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My dog stinks even after a bath," she says. "That's why my mother sent me here. She told me that here in the clinic we'll always have fresh towels to bathe her in and a clean bed.

"I was so excited to come. I came here by bus. The bus stopped here twice. The first time was a little past seven in the morning and the bus left again right after. I was so happy to see the dogs in here. They all looked so friendly. They were lying down in their cages."

A volunteer named Günay, who also runs a dog shelter, says that when he started working with the dogs he was astonished by the cruelty that was being practiced in Iran.

"We know that it's happening," he says, "but no one here is brave enough to say anything. But it's happening everywhere in Iran. They take dogs, and put them in tiny cages without food and water. Dogs are living that way because of the cold.

"They say that they bring a dog in for medical treatment because the owner can't afford it. But you see that they keep the cages so small that when the dog is brought in it's already sick. In their houses they have lots of animals.

"For a while I didn't care that much about the animals. I was more concerned about my family, who are also suffering."

It is a struggle to be compassionate about the plight of the dogs of Iran, but Günay says that he feels that he must try to help. "I love animals. I grew up with them," he says.

He points out that the main victims of animal cruelty in Iran are those whose families are not allowed to keep pets at home. It is a situation that is not allowed by the state.

"They are supposed to let you keep one or two dogs but not more than that," he says. "But many of the children keep a dog in their own backyard and take it for walks."

As he finishes his story, Günay is asked whether he thinks the practice will become illegal.

"No," he says. "In the eyes of the law, they're animals. People use them for medical treatment, to look after sick relatives and to clean their houses. This is not against the law."

In the last few years there have been occasional cases of Iranians helping the sick and the needy by rescuing dogs from the streets. Günay recalls one case in which a woman was stopped in her car and, when the police demanded that she return the dog that she had rescued, she took her own life.

"The dog wasn't really hers," he says. "It was a stray and it had become friends with the children in her neighbourhood.

"It became part of the family and it would cry if you told it to go to the vet. When she was stopped at a roadblock she decided she couldn't go on. She knew the situation. You can't give up. They say it's not their job to take care of dogs. The government says it's not the police's job to look after stray dogs. The dog is not considered part of the family and the people who take it in think they are doing a good thing but they don't feel the same way when the dog is left to starve and die. The dog is just not allowed to be an animal."

Last week a new dog-welfare organisation was launched in Iran by a committee made up of members of the Iran Animal Welfare Association. Although it is still in its infancy, it plans to work towards the removal of the legal status of stray dogs in Iran.

Günay says it is in both the interest of humans and dogs if the law is changed. "If we could live in a country where we didn't need laws to protect the rights of animals then I would vote for it.

"Now laws are the only way to regulate animals. If a dog doesn't have a legal guardian it can be taken from its owner. And if an owner wants to be reunited with their animal they need to pay to bring the dog back to their owner and register the dog. And then there's the law about dogs being considered as domestic property.

"The dogs have nowhere to go, they are treated as slaves. They are considered property like a car, which you can sell. They just want to have a life and they don't want to be sold.

"If I take a dog, someone has to take care of it. I don't know what happens to it afterwards. I will try to give it a home but it will always be my responsibility. This is because I took the dog, it isn't the dog's responsibility. If a dog is taken away from an owner it is not in anyone's interest to leave it on its own because the dog will have nowhere to go."

Many of the dogs Günay has rescued are taken from the streets. She says it is her "moral obligation" to take the dogs in and raise them with her.

"I have seen many dogs on the street with all their limbs tied and so covered in infections that they are hardly moving. They were once loved pets and then they are just neglected, mistreated and they're just left on the streets."

'It's not just my problem'

Günay says she is concerned about the future of stray dogs in the country. "When I look at all the problems I don't see them as my problems because they are problems of the country. I think that Iran is the first country in the world with no law to protect stray dogs and when there is a law I would like it to be a law that protects all animals and not just dogs."

She says there is no shortage of stray dogs in Iran, but their numbers are increasing rapidly.

People in Iran have been trying to find a solution to the problem but Günay believes her own approach is the right one. "The dog doesn't have any problems with me and I love all animals. I love people and I'm not even good looking at all. I just love dogs because I love dogs and I want to have more love in the world."

She says she would love to turn her home into a shelter for stray dogs. "It's not just my problem to solve. I just want a home for the dogs and to protect them."

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