In Iran, keeping a pet dog or cat is seen as a western import at best and extremely taboo at worse. Owning a pet dog especially is frowned upon and spaying or neutering an animal is viewed as cruel by many people. This combination of cultural taboos and lack of population control for dogs and cats has created a situation where Iran has many stray animals in need of a home. Fortunately, organizations like ‘Friends of Coco’ exist to rescue homeless animals, feed them, provide for their medical needs, and find them a home in the west.
‘Friends of Coco’ has existed since 2009 when its Founder, Raheleh La Croix adopted a cat from Iran and decided to take action to help the hundreds of dogs and cats living on the streets of Iran’s cities and towns. Manned by a group of dedicated volunteers, Friends of Coco has rescued hundreds of animals over the past 8 years.
Marisa Bossen, PhD, the current Vice President of Friends of Coco, met Raheleh in May 2014. Back then, she had not heard of Raheleh’s work or the conditions of animals in Iran. Raheleh was desperately searching for a home for an Anatolian Shepherd named Kona who suffered from terrible anxiety. She approached Marisa and her partner Jason, about adopting the Iranian rescue. “Once we met Kona, we fell in love,” Marisa said. “Kona has been one of the greatest gifts ever given to us and we wanted to pay it back and pay it forward. Staying involved with Friends of Coco just made sense.”
Arrow and his mother. Arrow is a rescue from Karaj, Iran. He arrived in Washington DC in early May to be with his adopted family.
Paying It Forward
In the 8 years that Friends of Coco has existed, Raheleh has witnessed great change in Iran. Whereas before, many people didn’t understand the need to spay and neuter animals, today, there is a spay and neuter clinic in Tehran. Also, there are vets for pet dogs and cats whereas just 10 years ago the only vets available were for farm animals.
“A lot has changed in Iran for animal rights,” Raheleh said. “But there is still a long way to go. We hope to continue to educate people and change the culture completely so that the welfare of animals becomes a priority.”
Katherine German, who has been working for animal welfare rights in the Middle East for the last 30 years agrees with Raheleh that so much more needs to be done. “I would like to see public education campaigns, a state of the art shelter and adoption program and free spay and neuter services,” Katherine says. Implementing these programs even on a small scale can significantly reduce the stray animal population and improve the conditions for homeless pets in Iran.
About Friends of Coco
Friends of Coco uses all donations raised to directly fund the rescued animals’ veterinary care, food, shelter, training, and airline fare when they’re finally adopted abroad. They are currently seeking foster homes for rescued pets so that they have a place to stay while they are looking for their permanent homes.
Cover photo: 2-3-year old German shepherd boy looking for a foster home. He lost his back leg in a car accident and may of been abused; but “is one of the best dogs ever”! He is trained, good with people, children, and other dogs; not neutered but has been vaccinated and has microchip.