One of them is missing a right leg, the other has no left paw. One is blind in both eyes, and still another has had its ear cut off. This report is a dispatch from a dog sanctuary a stone’s throw away from the Iranian capital, where injured and disabled animals are nursed back to health with the help of donors and placed in new, loving homes.

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Maryam Sanei has put own her name to the dog shelter she founded in Shahriar, Tehran province, meaning she’s easy to find. Every time she plans to post on the sanctuary's Instagram page, she sits in front of the camera and recounts to the audience, in person, the story of the latest animal she has visited or helped.

Maryam names each and every one of the dogs, and shares with her supporters the details of the dogs' recovery in real-time. She brings the camera up to the faces of animals who are taking refuge in her convalescent home, and films their joy and mischief as they undergo treatment and are restored to their former selves.

The Maryam Sanei Disabled Animals Recovery Center was established in 2010 and has been run as a non-governmental organization for ten years now. In her first Instagram posts, Maryam, who originally trained to become a flight attendant, has described how the idea for the sanctuary was born.

"Many charities work to meet the needs and to help people with disabilities,” she says, “but perhaps fewer people care about the peace and health of other living creatures of God. Therefore, we decided to establish this nursing home with the intention of helping disabled, injured and cancerous animals. Thanks to God and the support of the people, we have been providing services to these innocent and disabled creatures for ten years now, without depending on any government department or institution. I hope we can do our best to fulfil this responsibility for the rest of our lives."

One of her colleagues at the sanctuary, Homayoun, explains the variety of difficulties their four-legged charges sometimes present with. "These dogs all have different ailments," he says. “Some suffer from paralysis, and so the staff take them out in the open on stabilizers to walk them and prevent their muscles from seizing up.

“Washing, cleaning, and treating these creatures can only be achieved by a group of animal lovers working together. Many times, I have seen these staff members been sitting next to the animals at night, with their mouths closed but shedding tears, or crying out and rejoicing as they get better."

The outbreak of coronavirus meant Maryam and her companions spent more time online, introducing people to the disabled animals and the sanctuary’s activities in the digital sphere. "We normally have visits on Thursdays and Fridays for animal lovers," one member says. "People come and see these angels and play with them, and pay attention to their situation. They will go on to help the sanctuary and inform people about it. The pandemic, however, has disrupted these visits."

Tina, a veterinarian who has supported the sanctuary for two years, says: "A friend of mine sent me a link to the sanctuary’s Telegram channel and I realized, based on the content and the surgeries being performed on the dogs, that they conducted their work honestly. I told them I could come and visit one day a week; they were so happy.”

Tina believes that anyone who visits the Maryam Sanei Disabled Animals Recovery Center will fall in love with the place as much as she did. She urges those who are able to support the facility as much as they can. “Donations don’t just have to be cash,” she adds. “Items such as medicine and detergents, low-fat yogurt, baby powder, baby shampoo, mouthwash, 35ml syringes, mops, brooms, thick garbage bags, latex gloves, rice, chicken, dry food and sterile gauze, are among the items they constantly need."

Sanctuary staff have also launched online campaigns to encourage donations. One asks people to support the center with a one-off donation of ten thousand tomans, which can buy a significant amount of food and medicine for the dogs. Its Instagram page also notes, importantly, that it makes no money from rehoming.

Hossein, a regular supporter who has now adopted two of the dogs, tells IranWire: “I live in a large garden in Shahriar near the sanctuary. After getting acquainted with the place, I decided to get a dog from the sanctuary.

“When I applied to buy a dog, I realized that dogs are not for sale at all and they only give them to those who meet the required conditions. First, one of the experts visited the place I had prepared for the animal and inquired about my financial situation. They asked the neighbors about my well-being or any misconduct, then appointed a doctor for the dogs from the sanctuary. After the conditions of my place of residence were confirmed by the staff, two of these angels were entrusted to me and after six months, there are still periodic visits.”

Were these dogs not in his life, Hossein says, he might not have made it through his own bouts of depression and loneliness. “I suggest,” he says, “to all those who have the financial and logistical capacities and live alone, that they help themselves and do a good thing: go the to Maryam Sanei Disabled Animals Recovery Center."

This article was written by a citizen journalist in Shahriar under a pseudonym.

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