In dog-walking, Saudi virtue police see vice
In Riyadh, theories that the practice can encourage flirting revives a ban on buying and selling cats and dogs.
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA
A complaint about the "phenomenon" of dog-walking recently landed on the desk of Prince Sattam bin Abdul Aziz.Skip to next paragraph
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This practice was "becoming more and more acceptable and ... being taken advantage of by some young men in a way that conflicts with the rules and regulations of Islam," according to the protest from Othman al-Othman, head of Riyadh's religious police.
Prince Sattam, acting governor of Riyadh Province, responded by ordering city officials to begin enforcing a 1994 religious edict banning the sale of dogs and cats, because the prophet Muhammad had encouraged Muslims to refrain from trading in the animals, according to an officially circulated memo.
Although the ban does not prohibit walking your dog or owning a pet, Al Othman told Al Hayat that "if a man is caught with a pet, the pet will be immediately confiscated. And the man will be forced to sign a document pledging not to repeat the act."
For days after, the no-pet-in-public ban – consistent with the often heavy-handed efforts by the Saudi religious police to control the lives of ordinary people –was mocked in newspapers and blogs around the world.
Mr. Elhayek says that the religious edict goes beyond what the prophet Muhammad said. "First of all, he only discouraged people from selling dogs, he didn't prohibit it," said the vet. And there was no mention of cats in that advice.
The religious police "are trying to stop people from buying cats and dogs so they wouldn't act like a Westernized nation," says Elhayek. "I don't know what they're really after. You cannot stop people from being opened up to the world."
At the Life and Nature pet store, the ban was met mostly with derision.
"What kind of logic is this?" asks teenager Abdulaziz A. Al Bahassan, cradling his cat, "Dallah," in his arms. "What about little kids who like cats and dogs? They're not going to use them to flirt with girls, so why are they banning these people from buying?"
"I'm prettier than the dog, if I want to flirt with women, I'd just use myself!" says young Mohammed Al Anezi. "I wouldn't need the dog."
He adds that "there should be nothing wrong with buying a cat or dog. It should be normal."
Abdelaziz Al Yousef, who has a German shepherd named "Rocky," predicted that the ban would be "a big failure."