Iran’s first animal shelter, against all odds: Vafa’s Story

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Vafa is an animal shelter in Iran that was founded in 2003 by Fatemeh Motamedi to take care of dogs who were sick or needed care. Before that, there was sadly no such institution in Iran. 

Fatemeh Motamedi, Vafa’s founder. 

Founding Vafa ran counter to the dominant culture and it was thus not taken seriously. When people heard of what Vafa did for dogs, their response was likely to be mockery or even disbelief. Without water or electricity, without financial backing and with limited human resources, it had to face many difficulties in the beginning. But things changed. People started to get to know the joy of helping animals. Volunteers came and so did the financial supporters.

Volunteers at Vafa. 

On Fridays, Vafa is open to the public. People come to join volunteers and staff to see how hard they work. Seeing the gratitude of Vafa’s dogs is a practical lesson in loving animals.

Vafa remained the only animal shelter in Iran for years, but it has had a wonderful effect on people’s culture and mentality. Indifference has faded. People have learned that pity isn’t enough and that they need to do something for the animals. A number of other shelters, small and large, have come into being.

Volunteers walk some of the dogs at the Vafa shelter.

Vafa kept growing. In 2014, it started another branch in the city of Qazvin, to join its original location in Hashtgerd. Vafa started its work with ten dogs. Currently, more than 1,400 dogs live in Vafa’s shelters, most with a sad story behind them. But the care and security that Vafa offers has brought them comfort. Capturing stray and homeless dogs, checking them into the shelter, vaccinating them, providing them with medical treatment, spaying/neutering them, and running a successful adoption program are currently some of our regular activities.

By focusing on these activities, Vafa has been able to help many dogs, like Timsar, who was found on a dirt road with a piece of wire embedded in his neck, mange, and an eye infection.

Timsar, who is a happy and healthy dog after the treatment he received at Vafa.

Or Jean, who was found tied with a rope to a tree in a park north of Tehran.

Jean at the Vafa shelter.

Or Flirty and Foxy, who came to the shelter with a broken paw and eye problems, and who now live happy lives in their forever home with the Mafi family.

Mr. and Mrs. Mafi with Flirty and Foxy. 

The municipal government didn’t lift a finger to help until a couple of years ago. As protests against the killing of stray dogs grew, the Iranian government did establish a few shelters. These shelters have many shortcomings and their approaches have been heavily criticized by supporters of animal rights.

Vafa, Iran’s first animal shelter, has been around for 14 years. This fact is a reminder of how young this movement is in Iran and how far it still needs to go. There are currently no animal rights or welfare laws in Iran. Iranians abroad have helped us a lot in these years. Being better acquainted with cultures with more established ideals of animal-loving, they have done so much to support animal rights groups in Iran. They have encouraged us on social media which has motivated us further.

To learn more about Vafa’s shelters and read sweet stories of animals getting rescued, connect with us via our website, Facebook, and Instagram


Featured image: a dog rescued by Vafa. this image, and all images in this story are credited to Vafa Animal Shelter.

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Vafa is a charitable NGO run by grassroots donations. It runs two animal shelters in Hashtgerd and Qazvin, Iran, housing more than 1500 dogs. Click to see author's profile.

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