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?
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.
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.
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.