At The Humane Society of the United States, we stick up for petkeeping because we believe in the mutual benefits of the human-animal bond—and not just in the United States. A recent example arose when we learned of disturbing reports of a crackdown on petkeeping by police authorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Staff members John Balzar and Bernard Unti, a Ph.D. historian, put their heads together on a response, determined to contest the notion that petkeeping was some kind of Western fetish, inconsistent with Islamic tradition.
With Iran’s controversial president Mahmoud Ahmadenijad recently in New York City to address the United Nations, Dr. Unti sent a letter to Iran’s Permanent Representative at the U.N., deploring the harassment of petkeepers, the prohibition on walking animals in public places, and the confiscation of companion animals by police. In the letter, Bernie made the case that both the Quran and Islamic tradition demand a duty of care for animals. The crackdown, in short, was based on misinterpretations of the history of the human-animal bond and of Islam.
We made the letter public and, just a few days later, Bernie found himself on "Roundtable with You," a Farsi language Voice of America television broadcast that reaches an estimated 14 million Iranians each night. For a full hour, he discussed the universality of petkeeping and the strong positive tradition of Islam when it comes to animals.
Bernie also took questions via telephone and email from Iranian citizens in Tehran, who said they were struggling under the restrictions. Callers said they were scared to take their animals out for veterinary care, or even for a walk around the park, and they praised the show for covering the topic. It was, Bernie reported, a deeply moving experience to speak with people trying to protect their animals from this ill-conceived action.