The shelter has been burned to cinders. So have the puppies. A few dogs have had their throats cut. Bigger dogs have been poisoned and are breathing hard. Those dogs that did not swallow the poison are trembling and moaning. Their moans and the sobs of the people around them fill the air.

This is the Boumehen Animal Shelter east of Tehran, where animal lovers took care of stray dogs. But on the night of Sunday, May 22, arsonists attacked the shelter.

Sahar is one of the shelter’s supporters. She rushed there after the incident to help. “I don’t know how describe the scene,” she tells IranWire. “It is only moaning and screaming and shock. I can never forget what I have seen.” She begins crying before she can finish.

Sahar and many other volunteers who help out at shelters usually get attached individual dogs. When they arrive, they enjoy being greeted by happy dogs with wagging tails. But now, they have arrived to a scene of horror and cruelty. “Everybody was feeling sick,” Sahar says. 

But Sahar found that her favorite dog was still alive. “The poor creature was hiding under a pallet. When we got close it started to squeal. It was trembling and would not let anybody approach.”

She sent me the link to a video which an animal supporter had shot. This supporter had bought two puppies from a street vendor to save their lives. She placed them at Boumehen Shelter but has now seen the puppies’ burnt bodies. All throughout the video, she cries as she tells the story.

Supporters of the shelter use a Telegram channel to keep each other up to date. “Yesterday, we were very happy,” Sahar says. “Mr. Mani who runs the shelter had signed a contract with a certain Ms. Azizi for new grounds. We were very joyful and congratulated each other through our Telegram channel.”

Then Mr. Mani sent a shocked voice message, in which he was sobbing and saying, “Help me! They set fire to the shelter and burned the puppies.”

 

Threats Were Realized

Mr. Mani had received repeated threats over the past few days. “The local government had sent a letter saying that the shelter must be evacuated,” says Sahar. “The letter said we still had time, but Mr. Mani had received many other threats saying that if we did not evacuate the shelter, someone was going to poison the dogs.”

In a letter dated May 4, 2016, Roudehen Mayoralty notified the camp that, for sanitary and noise reasons, the shelter had to be moved outside city limits within three weeks. The letter warned that after the deadline, legal action would be taken.

“Based on this letter, we still had time,” Sahar says. “We were looking to get trucks for the move, but the night before last, they cut the electricity to the shelter.” In the morning after the fire, Mr. Mani and some other shelter supporters went to the police station and filed a complaint.

“To be honest, we were not in any shape to go through the necessary legal steps,” she says. “We were so dazed that when Ms. Azizi arrived at the grounds, she shouted at us and told us to stop crying and screaming and do something to save these angels. Everybody calmed down a little and they started moving the dogs and doing things to help. But when Ms. Azizi herself entered the shelter, she was so overwhelmed with the burnt-out room and the burned bodies of the puppies that nobody could calm her down.”

It took a few hours to move dogs that needed medical treatment to veterinary centers. But they still need help. “For the moment, we will have somebody in the shelter day and night,” Sahar says. “On Friday, we are going to evacuate the shelter and get the dogs which escaped harm to a safer location.”

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