August 1, 2008 in Nation/World

Saudi capital bans pets because of flirting factor

By DONNA ABU-NASR Associated Press
 

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – Walking a dog in the park is a sure babe magnet. Saudi Arabia’s Islamic religious police, in their zeal to keep the sexes apart, want to make sure the technique doesn’t catch on.

The solution: Ban selling dogs and cats as pets, as well as walking them in public.

The prohibition went into effect Wednesday in the capital, Riyadh, and authorities in the city say they will strictly enforce it – unlike previous bans in the cities of Mecca and Jiddah, which have been ignored and failed to stop pet sales.

Violators found outside with their pets will have their beloved poodles and other furry companions confiscated by agents of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the official name of the religious police, tasked with enforcing Saudi Arabia’s strict Islamic code.

The commission’s general manager, Othman al-Othman, said the ban was ordered because of what he called “the rising of phenomenon of men using cats and dogs to make passes at women and pester families” as well as “violating proper behavior in public squares and malls.”

“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,” al-Othman told the Al-Hayat newspaper. “If he does, he will be referred to authorities.” The ban does not address women.

The Saudi-owned Al-Hayat announced the ban in its Wednesday edition, saying it was ordered by the acting governor of Riyadh province, Prince Sattam, based on an edit from the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars and several religious police reports of pet owners harassing women and families.

So far, the prohibition did not appear to have any effect in Riyadh. It’s extremely rare, anyway, to see anyone in the capital walking a dog – much less carrying a cat in public – despite the authorities’ claims of flirtatious young men luring girls with their pets in malls.

Salesmen at a couple of Riyadh pet stores said Thursday they did not receive any orders from the commission banning the sale of pets. Cats and dogs were still on display.

“I didn’t hear of the ban,” said Yasser al-Abdullah, a 28-year-old Saudi nurse, who was at one pet store with his 3-month-old collie, Joe.

Al-Abdullah, who also owns an 8-month-old Labrador, said a couple of Western friends had been told to get off the streets by the religious police for walking their dogs.

“I won’t allow the commission to take my dogs from me,” he said.

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