We drive from Tehran towards Karaj, 20 kilometers west of the capital. We are told that Iran’s first animal shelter called Vafa is located somewhere between Karaj and Qazvin.
After passing Karaj we take an exit and get on a dusty road. All you see is barren land, not a soul, but after 2 or 3 miles we see a building, I look at my cameraman and we both smile with relief.
In most societies the weakest are the most vulnerable to cruelty and injustice. When you are physically weak, you tend to be physically abused. Animals are usually the weakest, they don’t have the means of communication human beings have.
When we get to the gates we see 10 dogs running towards us barking and jumping up and down. We are greeted by a woman in her early 50’s, she opens the gates and we enter the shelter. I see another woman in a green overall and rubber boots (Wellingtons) washing and sweeping up the section where the dogs are held. I’m kind of shocked and I see my cameraman has an astonished look on his face as well. I did not expect a place like this. I had seen dog pounds and animal shelters in other parts of the world; this place did not look anything like them. Unlike other shelters, animals here are not separated from each other, this place is more like a home; it’s like a big loving family.
Another thing that strikes you when you arrive is to see two women working in the middle of nowhere! And believe me it is in the middle of nowhere.
There are 170 dogs, 80 cats and a donkey here. The atmosphere is one of love, people here are working for free, donations do come in but it’s not much since the shelter has no advertisement.
Lida Essna Ashari is the managing director, she’s the woman with the green overall, and she comes from behind the fences to greet us. She’s also in her early 50s. She’s all smiles and welcomes us very warmly.
Each one of these animals has a tragic story, a story of abundance, abuse, starvation and hardship. Ms. Essna Ashari is an awesome woman; she knows all their stories by heart and gives us an example of some of the hardships these adorable faces have gone through.
Photo by Faranak Amidi
“I was driving on the highway I saw his almost lifeless body on the road, he had been hit by a car and left there to die, I pulled over, got out the car, managed to stop the speeding cars and pick him up. I’ve been taking care of him ever since.” she tells me.
And then another tragic story; “this poor little fellow has just arrived here, he was under intensive care, he’s lost a leg.” I take a better look and see his amputated leg. “His other leg was also badly crushed, but we saved him, so he hasn’t lost his other leg,” she continues.
She’s mixing bread and yogurt for the poppies, “the weather is getting warm and this mixture will prevent the poppies from getting diarrhea.”
I ask her about her work hours she tells me she lives an hour away, she gets here at 8 in the morning and leaves late at night. She’s a nurse and gives the animals the basic medical care they need but she also tells me that a number of very well known vets give the shelter free services.
I’m amazed by the amount of work these women have. It’s hard labor and it’s all for free. We walk into a big cage where 100 dogs are kept, the second they see her they run towards her, in a few seconds you can’t even see her she’s covered with dogs who want a piece of her love. Lida feeds them and continues talking to me.
She shares more stories about the dogs with me; all have a tragic beginning and a happy ending. “We found her and her new born poppies outside in the barren land, she had taken shelter between rocks, she is very weak right now, but we are taking very good care of her, she feels much better than when she first arrived here, ” Lida tells me.
The cats are separated from the dogs they are in a different section. Farah the other lady who works at the shelter is cleaning the cat’s section. A donkey called Zoro is rolling on the ground while the other dogs are just hanging around him looking quite surprised.
We have to pass by Zoro to get to the cats I pat him on his head. We enter the cats’ shelter and in a matter of few seconds I see my cameraman is surrounded by a few dozen cats, I can’t help laughing, it’s strange to be among eighty cats.
Farah sits down on the ground and cats just crawl up her, she’s laughing and petting them, you can hear the 50 or something cats purr.
My cameraman tells me it would be a good idea to give my piece to camera here, I get on my knees to try and get closer to the cats, we start recording, and the cats are all over me.
We are almost done and want to leave. Being there was quite an experience. The women we met were amazing, it seemed like their hearts had enough space for the whole world. I kind of envied how selfless they were, how mighty their hearts were.
We got in the car and started to get away the dogs were barking behind us, I look back and see Lida and Farah rolling up their sleeves and getting back to work.
Those who understand Farsi can get more information about the shelter and their activities at www.cal.ir. Faranak Amidi, Press TV,