Farnaz Fassihi reports for the Wall Street Journal:
Iranians have turned to the Internet to organize antigovernment protests. Now they're flocking online to defy another Islamic Republic edict: buying and selling dogs.
Pooch lovers in Iran are clicking on popular websites like Woof Woof Iran Digital Pets and Persianpet to pick their favorite canine, study dog grooming or swap pet tales.
Buying and selling dogs is illegal in Iran, unless they are guard dogs or used by police. Dogs are considered "haram," or unclean, in Islam. Until recently, keeping dogs as pets was limited to a small circle of Westernized Iranians.
But access to satellite television—and American programs depicting families playing with pups—has turned dog ownership into a sign of social status in Iran.
"It's the latest fashion now to buy each other puppies as birthday gifts," says Amin, a 25-year-old. He had never pet a dog until traveling to a village two hours outside Tehran to obtain a German Shepherd puppy.
Authorities are striking back. Last year, Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi issued a fatwa, or religious edict, denouncing dog ownership. In April, Iran's parliament passed a bill to criminalize dog ownership, declaring the phenomenon a sign of "vulgar Western values."
This summer, so-called morality police are cruising the streets looking to enforce the anti-dog law. The punishment varies from a fine of up to $500 if the dog is seen in a public space to temporarily confiscating cars and suspending drivers' licenses if the dog isn't contained in a carrier inside the car.
To evade detection, pooch owners are resorting to middle-of-the-night walks and driving hours to the countryside just so their pets can roam. Vendors charge the equivalent of up to $10,000 for top dogs and operate so covertly that some blindfold potential buyers en route to the kennel.
"It was crazy," says Ali Shekouri, a 32-year-old businessman who pursued three dicey strategies before obtaining a local beagle. "After a while I didn't know if I was buying a dog or dealing in an international drug trade."
When Mr. Shekouri set out to buy a puppy last year, a friend first took him to a small electronics shop in downtown Tehran near the grand bazaar. In actuality, it was a front for a middle-aged man selling dogs. After enduring a one-hour intense interview to make sure he wasn't an undercover cop, Mr. Shekouri was whisked away in a car to the kennel's secret location. During the ride, he says, he was blindfolded. He didn't find a pet he liked.
Mr. Shekouri then turned to the Internet for his puppy hunt. A quick Google search provided over a dozen domestic websites scattered across Iran from Rasht, a coastal city in the north, to the southern city of Ahwaz.
The Rashtpet website offers puppies from a database of photos. First the buyer must wire a payment—between $500 and $10,000 depending on the breed—into a bank account. Then the illicit pet is delivered within two weeks by a truck driver who hides the dog amid the cargo, according to Mr. Shekouri and the website.
The Petpars website promises a puppy equipped with a faux international passport hand-carried from Ukraine via a flight passenger. Mr. Shekouri says he was told he would receive his puppy in the arrival lounge of Tehran's international airport. Fed up with the hassle, he eventually settled for a beagle from a local breeder.