Pets or Pests?


I am a pet lover. I have had dogs, cats, hamsters, and fish in my life, and have loved them all. I eagerly await the days that I have the opportunity to raise a husky or a German shepherd, my girlfriend longs for an English bulldog named Winston, and cats will always have a place in my house. Needless to say, pets have and likely always will be an integral part of any home I live in. Reflection on my past and speculation of my future in regards to pets led me to wonder tonight; what is the pet culture like in Middle Eastern countries?

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Well, in one word; different. And, different from country to country. In many Middle Eastern countries, raising a pet is seen as an unnecessary expense that many cannot afford. Some dogs are kept for work or for guarding, but not in the same manner that Western pets are. In larger cities, stray cats and dogs populate the streets, and are often fed or played with, but bringing them into the home is not as frequent of a custom as it is in the Western world. More recently however, attitudes have begun to change. Among the affluent in Saudi Arabia, the owning of a “luxury” cat or dog has become being seen as a symbol of status. Similar to how an expensive watch or a large TV may express wealth here in the states, raising a strong and healthy Doberman expresses status in Saudi Arabia. Different exotic animals are also seen as luxury pets displaying success and prestige, and a rise in the ownership of cheetahs, reptiles, and other bizarre exotic animals as pets has been observed in the last ten years. Yes. Pet-cheetahs are a thing.

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Despite this, I also learned much about the many negative ways that pets can be perceived in these countries. In many Arabic countries, dogs are seen as pests rather than pets, animals that are unclean or unhealthy to have in the home. More conservative groups also hold the opinion that the keeping of pets is just another unwanted and deplorable Western influence on their culture. Some countries have even banned the selling of pets or the advertising of pet food and products. Iran is one country in particular that has expressed a strong disdain of household pets, specifically dogs. In 2010, Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance dictated a cleric declaring that dog owners were “blindly imitating the West” and that their devotion to the animals would result in “evil outcomes”. Though many of these societies’ attitudes are now beginning to change to become more pet-friendly with time, restrictions on pets and pet-related behavior continues to be banned and scrutinized in Iran today.

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These anti-pet perspectives become even more shocking when considering that many of the most popular domestic pets actually originated in the Middle East. Small dogs, specifically, are known to have their beginning roots in this area. This means that Winston, the bulldog my girlfriend so dearly wants, may have had Middle Eastern ancestors! An English Bulldog with Middle Eastern ancestors living in America, who would’ve thought? Felines were also of course widely domesticated and bred in early Egypt, where they were a sign of royalty and sacredness. It’s funny to reflect on how things can change with time. This knowledge of the pet culture in Middle Eastern countries really surprised me, and again reminded me of the vast differences in cultures and norms of people across the world. Even in something as seemingly unbiased as the keeping of pets, we as people hold very different beliefs. Though we may all be man, it seems that dogs may not be all of our best friends.

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14 thoughts on “Pets or Pests?

  1. Interesting topic it really had a lot of depth to it. It makes sense that Iran has grown such a strong disdain for the American idea of dogs becoming pets, because of all the stigma between U.S. and Iranian for many reasons pertaining to trade agreements. I’m surprised to see that some dogs are originally from the Middle East. There is a strong voice behind this post and it had a good amount of thought put into it. Nice read!

    1. Iran hasn’t “grown such a strong disdain for the American idea of dogs becoming pets”. Iranians have had dogs as pets for thousands of years. After the Islamic conquest of Iran some 1360 years ago, Iranians began to be ruled by Muslim Arabs under the Caliphate for a few centuries. With Islam came Arabic culture and because Arabs did not have dogs in Arabia, instead of embracing the culture of keeping dogs as pets they rejected them, which created a taboo for centuries to come (though there was always people who still kept dogs).

      As Iranians have become more urbanized, many (especially those who are liberal) buy dogs to keep as companions in their homes.

      This situation is not related to “Iranian disdain for American culture” (keeping dogs as companions isn’t limited to USA by the way, and it wasn’t created in the USA either).

      1. Accurate points, and much good historical knowledge that I hadn’t known. Excluding it to just American culture would be a mistake, you are correct. Saying Iranian’s disdain for Western culture and influence (which, of course, America is heavily apart of, but not at all the only element) would be more precise.

  2. I myself am a huge animal lover and cannot imagine myself without a pet. As a matter of fact, last year I rescued a kitten off the highway down here in Athens as I was on my way home which is three hours away. She was so small and it was becoming winter time and I could not resist, so for the next three hours I bonded with her during my drive home, while of course trying to focus on the road at the same time. Rescuing my kitten, now named Lily, was the best decision of my life and I cannot image my life without her. Although Lily had fleas and other things I had to pay for to clean her up and make her healthy, she was worth the time and money. I can see how Middle Eastern people can view these stray animals as unclean however, considering most of them are dirty and infested with something. Sometimes you just have to take the chance though, because you never know how loyal that pet will be in the future and the impact it could have on you. I think it is interesting how in the Middle East some pets may reflect a high social status on to people, considering here in America pets do not have that effect on people. Small dogs and cats do in fact however come off as a trend for celebrities, considering we see photos with celebrities such as Paris Hilton holding a small Chihuahua under her arm as if it were an accessory such as a purse.

  3. I find it very surprising that although some dogs come from the Middle East, they are still an unwelcome part of their society. Pets are so valued here in the United States, that I can’t imagine them being unwanted or treated poorly.

  4. I would love to hear what one of our Lebanese counterparts has to say about your blog! This was so interesting. It’s expected in our culture that at some point in your life you will have a pet. It’s interesting how different the Middle East is on this topic. My brain can’t even process a life without pets. It’s something I never thought I would be thinking about. We take our culture for granted sometimes! I am curious to seeing whether the ME adopts a westernized view on pets in the future. Fun blog!

  5. I too would enjoy a husky or an english bulldog. However, a cheetah might be a little overboard for me and I could not imagine where to begin in trying to domesticate one.

  6. I’m sorry, whichever conservative is saying pets are the territory for the west needs to read this blog. The evidence that supports small dogs originating from the middle east is clear, and the reduction in size is sooo paramount to domestication. Just to let you know, the link that refers to “blindly imitating the West” and that their devotion to the animals would result in “evil outcomes” isn’t functioning! I really would like to read it though, as perceptions of the west being evil are fascinating to me

  7. I love my dog so much and consider her my sister, so I can not even imagine considering her as a pest. It is interesting to think about how people in the Middle East view pets. Until now, I hadn’t given it much thought. I’d be interested to look back through history to see if Americans always had the same ideas about pets. The Middle East is slightly changing their views on pets and do take some as a symbol of wealth, as you stated above. Although, I must say, I wouldn’t be upset with a cheetah as a pet.

  8. Being a pet lover as well, I’m glad you chose to blog about this topic. In American, the majority of us value having a pet in our households, but I never really realized that this is not the same across the world. I mean, naturally not all cultures will have the same view on pets as we do, but it was interesting to read that pets are seen as “unnecessary” and “unwanted.” However, it does make me a bit weary that people are having exotic animals as pets. I’ve never been a big fan of this idea, and the photo of the cheetah strapped in the front seat was a bit shocking. Nice blog !

  9. I love this topic! Pets are so ingrained in Western culture…they’re family!! However, there are many countries, even outside of the Middle East where they are just seen as a nuisance. I also think it’s very interesting to discuss how the perception of pets in the Middle East has changed. When you learn about the ancient Egyptians, you always see thin short-haired cats around the pharaohs. Lastly, the idea of exotic pets is becoming increasingly popular around the world, however seeing a cheetah on a leash is a bit cruel to me. They’re the fastest land mammal alive, and yet this cheetah is tied up on a leash riding in a car. I would assume it’s not good for the cat’s muscles or it’s overall sense of being. Plus, who knows what it’s being fed.

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