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Ghandoon is the second dog to be evacuated from the Vafa Animal Shelter near Tehran. She is now being cared for at PAWS in Lynnwood, where Kay Joubert is the Shelter Director. (Photo: Kim Shepard)

Refugee dogs from Iran finding a new home in Lynnwood

Man's best friend is getting caught in the middle of the religious struggle playing out in Iran. An animal shelter in Lynnwood is coming to the rescue.

It all started last summer when the Iranian government tried to outlaw dogs. Under Sharia law dogs are considered dirty, and the Parliament was concerned dog ownership was a vulgar imitation of western culture.

"Dogs started disappearing and there were reports that MP's were taking dogs off the streets," says Mark Coleman with the PAWS Animal Shelter in Lynnwood.

Some dog owners decided to give their dogs up to the Vafa Shelter, the first and only shelter near the Iranian capital of Tehran. It has been some time now since it all started. It seemed the dust had settled.

Then, just recently, Vafa put in a call to the Humane Society of the United States apparently trying to move many of their dogs to shelters here. At the time they had about 450 animals.

"Obviously the shelter's not going to talk about it on their website, but the fact that they're trying to move these dogs now tells us that something's happening there," Coleman says.

The Humane Society has been working with shelters across the U.S, including PAWS. The Lynnwood shelter received their first dog from Vafa last week. Shabnam, Farasi for "morning dew," is a young Border Collie mix.

"She came out of her kennel and her little ears perked up. And maybe it's just us that we work in animal welfare, but you can almost see it when an animal goes, 'OK, I'm alright.' And she's been great ever since," says Coleman.

Shabnam is now officially available, just as PAWS receives a second refugee. Ghandoon came from the same shelter near Tehran, on a long flight to Germany, and another to Vancouver, Canada before finally making the drive to Lynnwood.

"They have volunteers that are traveling or will to travel, and they basically take them as luggage," Coleman says.

Ghandoon, Farasi for "sugar bowl," is a very thin, very nervous Anatolian Shepherd mix. Her trip from Tehran took more than 19 hours. Now that she has made it to PAWS, Ghandoon will finally get a chance to rest.

"We really want to give them time to settle in. For any dogs we transfer in we usually give them a couple of days. What we did for Shabnam is we gave her a whole week," says Shelter Director Kay Joubert.

Ghandoon will receive the same careful treatment. Just like you or I might need time to get used to a new culture, Joubert says the dogs are no different.

"Shabnam tended to like some of the smaller dogs. We realized she was not used to the American dog play style. So, the little dogs didn't seem quite so intimidating," says Joubert.

It is hard to say just how many dogs are being evacuated from Iran, but there are over 400 animals at the Vafa Shelter. PAWS has already been asked to take in a couple more of them, just as soon as volunteers can sneak them out.


Kim Shepard, KIRO Radio Reporter
Kim Shepard is a news anchor and reporter for KIRO Radio and the office optimist. She's energetic, quick to laugh and has a positive outlook on life.
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