Governments get in the way. Rhetoric makes us bypass people we might otherwise admire. That’s a lousy thing because if we can push that aside and look closer, we’d be very surprised at what we’d find. Which leads me to the question: can dogs serve as ambassadors of goodwill between nations? Yes, I think they definitely can.
On my trip to New York last June, I met a very talented artist from Iran named Mahmoud Hamadani. For a brief moment I’m going to bring one of his pieces into this post, for a few reasons. First, he’s the one who told me about the Vafa Animal Shelter (because the topic of dogs seems to always come up with me) so it sets the context. Second, because abstract art is open to interpretation I’m going to use this piece as a visual for the point I’m trying to make about cultures. And third, because I love it so much.
This piece is from Mr. Hamadani’s Endless Roads series which is based on a stanza from a poem called The Untimely Traveler by Azadeh Farahmand. It’s Untitled XV, ink on paper, and it’s a lovely 60″ x 44″. When I look at this piece in the context of different cultures, I imagine the vertical and horizontal lines represent “us” and “them”, which is easy enough because it illustrates a difference and distance between people and nations. But everywhere that these lines intersect, that’s a commonality: food, water, shelter, love, pursuit of happiness, security, the list goes on. And apparently that list includes dogs.
It’s never good to make generalizations, but I’ve always thought middle eastern cultures didn’t care much for dogs. But, judging by the photos below, this is clearly not the rule.
Welcome to the Vafa Animal Shelter, just outside of Tehran in an area called Hashtgerd. Founded by Mrs. Fatemeh Motamedi when her husband donated the land, the shelter was built to provide a place for all of the stray dogs to live. And not only live, they seem to thrive here! These have to be the happiest shelter photos I’ve ever seen! I realize that it must be a huge struggle to maintain this facility with a lot of heartache on a daily basis but the dogs, staff, and visitors seem to be genuinely happy in every picture I find. There’s a true sense of love for these dogs that is captured no matter what’s going on: spa day, getting the place ready for the cold winter months, doing vaccinations, and odd repairs.
One huge difference with this shelter I noticed is that these dogs are able to move about freely, rather than being confined to cages. Since they are social animals these dogs seem much more at ease with this arrangement, making this place feel more like a dog village. They appear to interact so well with the staff, it’s as though they are helping with those repairs. I would assume that if you were to adopt a dog from the Vafa Animal Shelter (and people do!) you’d pretty much be guaranteed a fine dog that could get along well with other dogs. Even on days when a local restaurant delivers fresh raw bones, these guys just find their own spot and munch away. Amazing.
The word “vafa” means “loyal” and judging by these photos and the dedication of Mrs. Motamedi and her staff, I’d say that loyalty goes both ways. I’m giving these folks at Vafa Animal Shelter my highest respect and admiration, and I wish I could meet them someday for coffee and a nice how-do-you-do in the international language of Dog. No matter what our governments have to say.
The photo above is one lucky pup from Vafa, now living half a world away in Chicago.
If you’d like to learn more or donate to the Vafa Animal Shelter, you can find all of the information in the About section of their Facebook page, which is here. If you are interested in adopting a Vafa shelter dog, please contact Farah Ravon (based in California): by email email@example.com, or by phone +1 (408) 431-6954 (mobile/cell).
For information on the artist Mahmoud Hamadani, you can visit his website here.
All shelter photos from the Vafa Animal Shelter Facebook page. Mahmoud Hamadani painting, copyright and courtesy of the artist.
Erica Preo is CEO & Creative Director of Pantofola, pure luxury Italian goods for dogs.
Wow! I, just like you, thought that middle eastern people did not care about dogs, but certainly did change my mind. The person that came up with this idea, dogs being able to interact with each other rather than being confined in runs/crates is a genius. From experience, I can say that the best way to have multiple dogs, in my case, I start with a really long walk. The longest 2 dogs have taken to get along with each other was 45 mins. It was a pom and a boxer mix and they just hated each other, but we walked them and got them to meet properly, they sniffed each other’s butts, and after an hour walk they were fine with each other. They got along so well that Cynthia took a picture of the two of them right next to each other looking out a window. No collars, no leashes, no crates. I always introduce dogs this way, and I’ve been pet sitting for a couple of years and I can certainly say that I do agree with the way the shelter in your post is being run. Maybe the shelters in this country could follow suit, don’t you think so?
I do think so! And for a few good reasons: seems to be so much better for the dogs, they appear so much happier and relaxed existing in this large pack atmosphere. That has to make them healthier and would probably reduce a lot of destructive behavior to themselves due to the stress. The other thing is this: wouldn’t it be so much more pleasant to visit a shelter with this type of positive energy? I think more people would be open to coming to shelters to see and adopt dogs if this were the environment. I know I would, I hate going to county shelters…the sad barking, long faces of doom, hopelessness. Even with things being a little “hard scrabble” at Vafa, the joy that seems to exist there erases all of that for me and they make the best of what they have. I also agree with your method of introduction. We recently integrated our new dog Stella into the household in a similar way and it’s gone really well! It helps of course that she’s such a sweet dog, but probably not different from the dogs I see in the Vafa photos. I’m sure they get some that require extra conditioning and must have a plan in place to correct behaviors, but it really seems they are doing a lot of things better there. Thanks for you comments!
Yes, I do wish more shelters would work like the one at Vafa, but because of regulations and many other factors that is not possible right now. I do prefer that dogs be out with other dogs and/or humans. It is the most peaceful and least stressful way for them to live with others.
What an awesome idea for a shelter, thank you for sharing it!
It was my pleasure! Hey, since you’ve been to Best Friends, do they have some sections of their shelter set up this way without cages?
What’s really great about Best Friends is how the animals live. The cats are separated into building depending on their age and wellness. Once in the building they go into rooms together and live communally. The dogs are similar, they live in buildings called octagons (b/c they are shaped as such) and in each octagon are several indoor, outdoor dog runs. Again the dogs are separated by age, size, temperament and wellness. Obviously if an animal has problems with others they have their own space but it’s so nice to see the animals live this way instead of in cages, crates and single dog runs.
Thanks for the info! I think Best Friends has a lot of great ideas and ventures!
Great post, Erica. Thanks for the insight and eye-opening and mind-opening information. Thanks also for the art. I, too, like that piece. I an imagine making it which is pretty interesting to ponder.
How wonderful are they! Wherever the county and whatever the culture, you can always find special people and places like this.