Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Family Dog and Islam: Part I--Some Generalities and One Family Pet

King AbdulAziz gifted British Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson with a pair of his best hunting salukis, Abdul Farouk I and Lady Yeled Sarona Ramullah, after a day of hunting in the 1940's.
Picture from Saudi Aramco World, accompanying the article A King and Two Salukis.

Earlier I wrote about some family medical challenges over the Christmas holiday, which raised certain themes within cross-cultural medicine, Cross-Cultural Medical Observations From "The Little Boys' Room": Part I--Auntilary/Psycho-social"  and "Part II--Filial-Daughterly/Medical". Unfortunately, since then my father passed away, as I wrote about in "Walking with God and the Saints", and "Time To Say Goodbye".

However, I mentioned at the end of the second medical post that another family member, my canine niece, Whisper, had agreed to do her own post, with its own broader focus. In fact, Whisper was the other family medical challenge that occurred over the holidays. Her post will be in 2 parts, in my words here in Part I, and in her words in Part II, which will follow on directly (she writes faster than I do).

Miss Whisper

Not Whisper, but a stand in

Whisper is a 12 ½ year old purebred Coton de Tulear, who has been a wonderful companion for my sister. Whisper arrived at her home as a puppy, at a time when my sister was living alone. She gave the unconditional love, joyful reception on homecoming, and the distraction that companion pets provide naturally, but which does such a great service to their human owners. I call her my canine niece because she is indeed a part of our family. She knows her place in the pack is that of a special family member, one with lower status than the humans, but a well-treated and well-loved one, with fewer household duties.

Dogs as Pets in Islam

Emirati with the traditional Arabian hunting dog, the saluki

 Of course, having a pet, or companion animal, particularly a dog, is controversial in Islam, and potentially controversial for interfaith couples. Based on both the Quran and the strongest Hadith, many, especially conservative Muslims believe that a dog’s role in relation to humans is only as a hunting (Quran 5:4), herding, or guard dog (Al-Bukhari Volume 1, Book 4, Number 175). Others extend the role of service to man to include dogs as guide dogs for the visually impaired (as have CAIR, and the British Muslim Council), medical dogs for epileptics, therapy dogs for the emotionally challenged, companions for the socially isolated or emotionally challenged, or generally as pets for anyone.

 Indeed if it is acceptable to have only working dogs then current dogs work as companion animals, guides, hunters, herders, guards, police assistants (including drug sniffing), military assistants (including bomb sniffing), therapy animals (aids to exercise, emotional development, socialization, responsibility), etc. Most pet dogs serve as various combinations of companion, informal therapy, guard, and sometimes hunting dogs. Since the presence of a barking dog of whatever size or breed has been shown to deter burglars, all companion animals, or seeming “pets” are guard dogs.

While pet dogs usually do fulfil multiple roles at once particularly as companions, guard dogs for the home, and protectors of family members, whether or not they also are hunting dogs, or working dogs, to be able to bring a dog into Saudi one must designate for it one of the 3 traditional roles, usually guard or hunting dog.


In addition to the debate about the role of dogs in relation to humans, there is debate, based again on the Quran and reliable Hadith, on whether a dog should be allowed inside the house. Some cite the Surah of the Cave, Al Kahf, 18:18 and 18:22, to justify allowing a dog to live inside, others site the same Surah and ayats to suggest that the dogs mentioned were only at the threshold of the Cave, not inside with the sleeping men when the angels visited.

A third aspect is the proper treatment of dogs. Again both the Quran and Hadith justify treating dogs well, training them to hunt properly (Quran 5:4), feeding them from utensils (if from human ones these are to be washed 7 times Al-Bukhari Volume 1, Book 4, Number 173), giving them sufficient water (Al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 4, Number 174), and allowing them to roam (Al-Bukhari Volume 1, Book 4, Number 174) . Muslim veterinarians certainly advocate for the good care and treatment of dogs, as well as trying to dispel false ideas based on cultural misunderstandings, as here and here.

Part of the concern about dogs is the worry about saliva, and other excretions, and purification for prayer. This has been addressed in part by choosing breeds that do not drool, training dogs not to lick, jump or soil, and reducing contact with dogs prior to prayer. For example, a guide dog was allowed by the British Muslim Council to accompany his blind master to the mosque, but remained crated in the vestibule and away from those gathered to pray. The breed had been chosen for its lack of drool, good nature, and intelligence for training.

Breed and the Individual Dog

Madagascar sunset

Whisper shows the traits of her breed, which was brought to Madagascar on ships as sniff hounds to chase the rats, then moved up the social ladder to companion pet to the Royal Family exclusively: excellent companion, low maintenance, separation anxiety when away from family, hypoallergenic, intelligent (about human age 18-24 months), and sniffs her way when in foreign territory. She also has her own personality: food mooch with an inexplicable passion for oranges and tuna (maybe that ancestral seafaring role) and for “cheese-rain” (grated Romano that falls from the “sky” as it is being freshly grated over whatever human recipe), an independent streak about whether or not to obey a command to “come!”, and a delight in chasing golfers.

The Rear Approach to the Castle

As her fenced in backyard domain looks on to a golf course, Whisper takes great delight in rapid detection of a party of golfers coming towards her fiefdom, moving down the fairway, and taking their shot--often from opposite her territory. She starts barking at them and warning them off when they get to the far right corner of the lot, gets very rambunctious when they are taking their shot, and woe betide the golfer who has gone into the rough closer to her fence, or worse into the stream even closer; and, the ones who think they should retrieve a wayward golf ball from the embankment in front of her fence are just plain gluttons for having 11 lbs (5kg) of white ferocious puff ball in full “castle defense” mode.


Of course, eventually, these golfers do progress down the fairway, and she gives them a final sendoff and “don’t come back” barkfest from the far left corner of the lot before doing a victory lap around the yard--or 2 if it has been a large party, or a particularly slow group. Oh, but what is this? Incoming? More golfers approaching from the west? And it starts all over. Positive behavioural reinforcement in action! They always move off after she barks enough--or so she thinks!

The Neighbours to the East

Whisper, in fact, was misnamed in the mistaken belief that her breed has a very soft to non-existent bark. Instead, it turns out that the breeder had cut the vocal cords of her own dogs to reduce their bark to a “whisper”, and Whisper is rather loud, persistent, and, as she thinks, ferocious.


This barking, though for brief periods at a time since she is mainly an indoor dog, resulted in the animosity of the next-door neighbours, a couple in their 70’s who hate children and dogs, and inexplicably moved into a brand new survey full of young families with children, dogs, and babies and puppies on the way. After 4 years of being tormented by Mr and Mrs Gloomy--poked at with a rake through the chain link fencing, sprayed with water from the garden hose to “quiet” her--Whisper, one fine Victoria Day Monday, seized the occasion to dash from the front door and make straight for Mrs Gloomy, who proceeded to flail about, exciting the dog more, and thus received a nip in the calf. I say nip because this is, after all, a puff ball passing itself off as a dog, one with teeth missing due to her cardiac condition, and Mrs Gloomy’s skin was not broken.

Nonetheless bedlam ensued, as Mr Gloomy attempted to kill Whisper with the blow of a 7-iron to the head (he missed but not for lack of trying), my sister attempted to rescue the dog in between swings of the golf club, animal control and the police were called, threats were made of a lawsuit, a demand for $1000 was sent which included $500 for mental anguish, and an insurance claim was negotiated for much higher than that. The affair of the dog "bite" was finally settled 10 months later.

Out and About in the Neighbourhood


One of Whisper's other famous adventures I had the joy of experiencing first hand, or foot rather. Whisper and I were out for a walk in the neighbourhood, and were returning from afar, when we came upon some men  working on a driveway. In fact they seemed to have finished a new cementing, and about 5 were standing about as one did the final smoothing of the surface. It seemed as if there was ample room for us to pass on the sidewalk between the wet cement on the driveway on the right and on the boulevard on the left. We proceeded to do exactly that. All was good for the first few steps and then Whisper took more room on the lead and step, paw by paw by paw by paw, into the wet cement on the boulevard side. I was dismayed and spun around to bring her back onto the side walk, with the result that I put my foot into the wet cement on the driveway side.

I must say that the paving crew demonstrated admirable restraint--or else were stunned into silence. Only one even spoke at all, and he did so as a kindly reminder to remove all cement traces from paws and foot, to prevent injury. Since there was not flicker of understanding on the part of either myself or Whisper, he added to do it soon, otherwise a burn might result. Still nothing, so he used a garden hose to wash off  Whisper's paws, and then my running shoe. He did an excellent job too, after which I finally remembered that there is lye in cement. We walked away after profuse thank yous and managed not to step in the newly smoothed cement again.

Veterinary Medicine


Whisper had had a few challenges medically until just prior to Christmas 2009, including low thyroid, treated with thyroid supplementation, and a heart murmur, but both were under control. However, over the holidays she required an emergency cardiac assessment because of lethargy, cough, difficulty breathing, and rapid respirations with a “bellows effect” to her chest. The initial assessment was done by her veterinary generalist, who took the history, did a physical, checked her blood, and took x-rays. He was optimistic that she had no congestive heart failure, but was concerned by the huge size of her heart coupled with her heart murmurs (grade 6/6 on the left and 5/6 on the right). He recommended an immediate pre-Christmas assessment by a veterinary cardiologist. As her regular cardiologist had already left for the holidays, he arranged an appointment with another in a nearby city.

Chiara who?!

Travel to the nearby city involved an hour on the highway, something Whisper is no longer used to since her commuting days between human mother and grandparents houses ended a number of years ago when they all moved in together. For safety reasons then, I was the designated passenger, "dog whisperer" for the journey. Unfortunately my father had woken up ill that morning and was trying to get an emergency appointment the same day with his general practitioner, who was of course on holiday already, and hence waiting for a call back from the doctor covering her clinic.


Part way along the highway my sister asked me to call and find out if this appointment had materialized, and how my father was doing. Unfortunately in her concern, and concentration on getting the call back for the appointment, my mother couldn't seem to understand who I was. She kept guessing at various nurses or office staff, and even giving my name didn't seem to help (not to mention that I had started the conversation with "Hi Mom"). It only resulted in an impatient "Chiara who?!". Attempting to explain further who I was, where I was, and why I was calling, only resulted in her thinking this was a highly unamusing prank, and resulted in her giving a summary "Good bye" and hanging up. So much for filial concern!

Whisper meanwhile had quite adjusted to the car ride, and adopted her old habit of hanging almost fully out the window, sniffing the air and letting the wind blow through  her white locks.

Specialty Veterinary Medicine

On her follow-up appointment, Whisper’s regular cardiologist also diagnosed congestive heart failure, and estimated she had 6-8 months of life, although it could be longer. This was sad, but not surprising, news. We were already anticipating, from previous consultations, that Whisper would leave us over the next year. That means she will be sorely missed by each of us--my sister most of all, and my nephew who grew up with a canine older sister, learned to walk mostly so he could play with her, and always includes her in the calendar of family birthdays.


To date, Whisper is managing well with a diuretic for her congestive heart failure, and medications including a beta-blocker and a calcium channel blocker to regulate her heart. She is no longer allowed to take the walks we once enjoyed, but she is happy with her daily routines, her large backyard, barking at golfers and home visitors, mooching food, and pretending she has to go outside so she will get a treat for coming back in promptly.

In Favour of Discussion

Whisper hopes that Part I has served to illustrate how a dog can serve both the less traditional companion and more traditional guard dog roles even in suburbia. She has agreed to share her diary with us in Part II of this post, and is happy to have us discuss now any of  the roles of a dog as family pet, defender of family and family property, hunter or hunting assistant, service animal, guide, exercise companion, herder, police/military officer, general focus of interest, etc. She appreciates that there may be cross-cultural and interfaith differences of opinion about this; and, secure in her own importance in the world (not to mention her international roots), is happy to have all express their opinions, and even share their own personal dog stories (not too glowingly though!).


What roles do you see as acceptable for dogs?
What is your understanding of the acceptability of dogs as pets in Islam?
What experience have you had with dogs in Arab or other cultures?
How do marrying couples blend the family pets? Who gets custody in a divorce?
What happens when the family pet is ill or has to be left behind in a move?
How much expense on veterinary bills is justified?
How hard is it to have a pet if you are an expat who moves frequently?
What is your favourite dog story?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?

Coming next...Part II One Dog's Diary

13 comments:

Shafiq said...

lol.....I have an irrational fear of dogs, which is especially difficult to live with when so many of your neighbours have dogs as pets. The number of times I've crossed the street to avoid a dog ...

Susanne said...

Very cute post! I am eager to read Whisper's perspective now...ha, ha! Great stories about your experiences together like the cement on your shoes/Whisper's paws. :) Sorry Mrs. Gloomy is such a meanie.

LOL @ your mom asking "Chiara, who?"

When we went to Syria, we only saw one dog the whole 12 days. Quite different from home where I can look out my window and see dogs in nearly every neighbor's yard.

Enjoyed this!

Chiara said...

Shafiq--thank you for your comment. Fortunately your irrational fear doesn't extend to reading and commenting on posts about dogs. Now enquiring minds want to know! Is your fear based on a childhood experience, or messages you received at home about dogs, whether related to religion or not, bias towards 4-leggedness, something else? Do tell! LOL:)

Ironically the woman who saved my sister from a lawsuit over Whisper is very afraid of dogs. However, she had observed Mr and Mrs Gloomy tormenting Whisper and told the person who was going to act as their witness. Since he is a dog lover, and has one of his own, once he learned about the context, he refused to testify.

The neighbour who is afraid of all dogs has never complained once about any neighbourhood dog. Ironic!

Thanks again for your comment, and I look forward to your response, along with the comments of others.

countrygirl said...

All right a word of advice my followinf post is one sided :-P.

Dogs IMHO is a family member...at the end of october my dog died suddently and I couldn't live without a pet....i mean I own a shop and at lunch break I usally took her out for a brief walk, when a customer entered my dog went to greet him or her....to make the story short i lasted a week...the following sunday went to a breeder (3 hours drive) to get my new dog....as a previous one she's a cocker spaniel and her name is Bella.

Compared to the Arab world here in the west dogs have an easier life...I let my dog sleep on my bed (and I know many dog owners who let their dog do the same).

As long as you have the money vet bill isn't important as long my dog is healty I don't care on how much i will spend for her unless of course if she have to suffer without a reason....when I go on vacation I always bring a present for my dog (of course she receive a Xmas present).

Shafiq I know that in the muslim world dogs aren't well treated and it's not so common as here in western country for family to have a pet and I'm wonderin if you fear of dogs is caused by this.

Chiara said...

Susanne--glad you liked it and thank you for your comment!

Yes the conversation with my mother was hilarious and frustrating at the same time. My sister was looking stunned when I started explaining over and over who I was. Then, when my mother essentially hung up on me, she said, "Give me that, for goodness sake, what is the matter with her" and proceeded to phone (ILLEGAL while driving LOL :) ) and shout at my mother who she was, who I was, and ask about my Dad. She didn't get much better a response. :)

Interesting about the dogs in Syria. In Morocco, I know families with hunting dogs but you rarely see the dogs, or maybe they are kept in the yard when visitors are in the home. Compared to France where there are dogs everywhere, including inside restaurants, there does seem to be a dearth of dogs in view!

Whisper appreciates your interest in her own writings and looks forward to your comment. She suspects you will find more of our antics amusing! :)

Chiara said...

Countrygirl--I am sorry your dog died, and glad that you brought another into your life. It sounds as if your dogs are very much integrated into your daily routines and well-pampered.

I agree that where the family has the means, the veterinary bills should be seen as a necessary expense as long as they are medically appropriate and the fee is in line with the local norms.

A good veterinarian doesn't want the pet to suffer or the owner to pay needlessly. They even suggest ways of reducing costs while maintaining pet health. For example my sister was told to use furosemide tablets for people from the regular pharmacy in the appropriate doses because they are much cheaper than the dog preparation dispensed through and animal hospital pharmacy. Also the "pill packets" which are sold as a way to give the dog the pills embedded in a treat are expensive and the vet said to use butter or cheese instead, and not to worry about the fat and calories as cardiac illness usually results in weight loss. I have no doubt that at the appropriate time, futile efforts will not be made to unnecessarily prolong a poor quality of life.

I hope Shafiq enlightens us both on his fear of dogs. I would say that Muslim dog owners I know in the Muslim majority countries and in the West treat their dogs very well. The ones in Morocco usually have a yard to run and play in and sleep on the balcony protected from the elements. They are fed appropriately and appreciated as pets as much as guard and hunting dogs.

Feral dogs live a tough life anywhere, and are rampant in Hong Kong which is 90% countryside. The dogs run in packs of course and can be quite "bold" in seeking food. They also reproduce and are added to by people abandoning pets in the wild when they leave the region or are unable to care for the pet. There is however an active SPCA adoption program.

If you look at the UAE Saluki site you will see more pampered dogs as in the photos above. As hunting dogs salukis perhaps are more acceptable, and are native to the region.

Thanks for your comment! I am glad you are enjoying your new Cocker Spaniel, and Bella is lucky to have you!

NidalM said...

So sorry to hear about Whisper. But it sounds like she's had an amazing life :)

You know, I always did wonder about a loophole in the ruling of dogs in Islam. So dogs can only be kept for protection/hunting. However, it is also said dogs can detect the presence of Jinn. So can one, hypothetically, keep a cute little dog around, say a chihuahua, for the purpose of protection against Jinn?

Something to ponder :P

Also, the captcha request for this comment is 'sperm'. Sometimes I think the universe is playing a horrible joke on me ;P

Shafiq said...

Chiara, lol! It's kind of all three put together. The whole cleanliness issue meant that we were told to avoid touching dogs wherever possible and this lack of contact gradually formed into an 'irrational fear'. It's also slightly genetic - my Mum's worse than I am.

When my Mum still lived in Zimbabwe, she was dropping her sister off somewhere. Once my aunt got out of the car, they both noticed a dog. My mum panicked and not only closed all the doors but locked them too, leaving my aunt stranded outside with a pretty fierce dog approaching. In the end she jumped onto the roof of the car until a friendly neighbour got rid of the dog.

In Africa (where both my parents come from), it's common for Muslim families to have dogs as pets (mainly guard dogs) but it's very rare here in Britain. Having said that, there has been an increase in 'status dogs' within a certain sector of the Muslim community.

CountryGirl,
You are right when you say dogs are treated much better in Western countries. Although, I don't ethnically originate from any Muslim country (I'm Indian), dogs are treated poorly in most non-Western countries (I don't even know whether to call them dogs, many border on being wolves)

The whole dog issue can be very awkward. I have an aunt who's married cross-culturally. They had a dog, which meant a simple weekend visit to a relative was a nightmare. Muslim families here, are uncomfortable with having dogs full stop, never mind keeping one in the house and obviously my aunt and uncle treated their dog as a member of the family. Sadly the dog died, which on the upside means that there is no longer any awkwardness.

Chiara said...

NidalM--Thank you for your words for Whisper. She appreciates them greatly.

I would assume that jinn detection falls under protection, hunting and perhaps even the third acceptable Islamic work role for dogs, herding. For example, the chihuahua (please make it a long hair) detects a jinn as part of its guarding duties, hunts the jinn down, discovers a group of jinns, and herds them on out!:)

What can I say about the verification word...must be your virility coming through the net! :)

OR your Aunties sending marry and multiple messages.:( ;)

Thanks for your comment!

Susanne said...

I am giggling at Nidal and his comment about the captcha word. :-D

I forgot to add that the 1 dog we saw was in the internet café that we visited in the Christian neighborhood. Samer was with us and I could tell he didn't like the dog coming near him so I told Andrew to keep the dog away. It was a small, inside one. So Andrew distracted the dog.

Samer said the internet café owner smiled and said to her son, "He's Muslim" as if that explained why he reacted as he did to the dog. Samer said he just grew up thinking dogs were dirty so he is not used to them. You can imagine what a challenge Germany has been since dogs are often riding the same buses and trains as he. :)


Last year I got bit by a dog in our neighborhood. A Doberman pinscher got me on St. Patrick's Day 2009. I joked that it pinched me 'cause I wasn't wearing green. So I guess it was partly my fault. :)

Chiara said...

Shafiq--thanks for the follow-up comment. It does sound as if the negative dog messages have been handed down "Islamically" generation to generation, and maybe a genetic hypersensitivity to fears, in this case of dogs.

Poor aunt!

I wonder about the rarity of dogs amongst Muslims in Britain. Perhaps it has as much to do with the South Asian culture of the majority of British Muslims as with Islam.

What a dreadful status type dog! It seems as if "fight dogs" are status dogs amongst all youths trying to appear tough while hanging on corners, as opposed to Muslims alone.

Thanks for addressing the mixed interfaith marriage issue and expanding it beyond the couple to the whole family. Presumably the couple would have an agreement about dogs, but the rest of the family might not be so comfortable. As "my Muslims" seem to have no problems with dogs this has been one of those "learned in the blogosphere" issues, but I have no doubt it is real. This may also be an issue for Muslim/non-Muslim friends.

I agree that the notion and degree of treating animals as pets only is a more dominant Western one, and one of relative financial comfort. Pets can cost a lot of money for purchase (Whisper cost as a puppy about the same as a new small car), obligatory vaccinations, vet care, groomy products, and food (Whisper eats only very high end dry dog food of the "made fresh with grain fed chickens" variety). If I weren't dog sitting she would be in a kennel for hundreds of dollars for the week.

Dogs grew to be pets out of their work functions: guard, hunting, herding. eg; Lassie is a shepherd, Rin tin tin a guard dog, Old Yeller a hunter etc.

Other pets also had an original work purpose, and continue to do so especially in rural areas, eg cats keep the house free of mice, horses work a ranch even if ridden for pleasure and loved, etc.

In more urban settings pets are valued for companionship, and become hobbies, like show animals, or the Chinese custom of keeping song birds in beautiful rose-wood cages, and promenading the birds in their cages to the local teahouse (usually elderly men do this more).

Thanks again for your comment and sharing your experiences and knowledge!

Chiara said...

Susanne--thanks for adding that information which gives a vivid description of the differences religiously in attitudes towards dogs from those in the know. So nice and gracious of you to have Andrew distract the dog!

Must have been an Irish Doberman! :P
I would say that is encouragement to wear green!

Thanks for your additional comment!

Antor Biswas said...

Oh, he's divine - I love the character that some dogs have, they are definitely furry people!
My friends have a little Boston Terrier and he's super. They have trained him to pause before getting the command allowing him to eat (they were hoping to stop him eating everything in sight as they took him walking). Only trouble is he took to it like a duck to water, and they didn't realise one night that they had forgotten to give him the 'eat' command before disappearing into the next room. An hour or two later they came back to him, still sitting in the kitchen staring at him dinner, poor baby.

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