Modern Iran contrasts with Zoroastrianism’s Ehtirám-I sag or “great respect for the dog”

The Love of Animals and the Holiness of the Dog In Zoroastrianism by Ardeshir Fahramd , Posted on July 11, 2011

In today’s Iran, some ruling clergy teach that the love of animals, and especially fondness for dogs is a decadent, western value. Unfortunately , stray dogs are killed and abused. My purpose in this article is to show that that the love of pets/dogs is an ancient, revered tradition of the original Iranians; an ancient virtue and a common Indo-European value that must be honored.

Ehtirám-I sag; or “great respect for the dog;” is a command among Zoroastrians. In Zoroastrianism, the dog is regarded as an especially benevolent, and virtuous creature, which must be fed and lovingly taken care of. The dog is praised for loyalty, intelligence and having special spiritual virtues.

Dogs  receive a striking degree of attention in the “legal” (dâtîc) books of  the Avesta, notably in the “Vi-dêv-dâd” and the “Dvâsrôb” or the 16th Nask/Volume of the Avesta, the contents of which are known from Dênkart  (q.v.) 8. Detailed prescriptions for the appropriate treatment of dogs are found in the Vi-dêv-dâd (one of the legal Avestan scriptures), especially in chapters 13, 14 and 15, where  the faithful are required to assist dogs, both domestic and stray, in various ways. Help or harm to a dog is equated with help and harm to a human. Responsibility  toward dogs is repeatedly linked with responsibility toward humans.

In the  Hüspârâm Nask the proper quantities of food are listed for man, woman, child,  and the three kinds of dogs (Dênkart 8.37.1).

In Vi-dêv-dâd 13.28 it is enjoined that a dog is  to be given whole milk, hearty bread and other dairy products, staple articles of the diet of farmers.

In Sad-Dar/hundred doors  31.1 it is enjoined that “whenever people eat, they should keep back  three morsels from themselves and give them to a dog or pet,” and this was general  practice in the Irani and Parsi communities down into the present century  (Boyce, Stronghold, PP. 143, 145 n. 11). It is also a major sin if a man harms a dog by giving it bones that are too hard and become stuck in its throat, or food that is too hot, so that it burns dog’s throat. Giving bad food to a dog is as bad as serving bad food to a righteous human.

A sick dog or animal is to be looked  after as carefully as a sick person (Vi-dêv-dâd. 13.35)  A homeowner is required to take care of a pregnant dog that lies near his/her home until the puppies are six months old (Vi-dêv-dâd. 15.45.) If the homeowner does not help the dog and the puppies come to harm as a result, “he/she shall pay for it the penalty for wilful murder;” because the Spiritual Blaze/Fire of GD watches over a pregnant dog as it does over a mortal woman” (Vi-dêv-dâd. 15.19.).  The believers are required to take care of a dog with a damaged sense of smell, to try to heal the dog, “in the same manner as they would do for one of the faithful.”

The killing of a dog is considered to lead to damnation and extreme evil luck.

According to Vi-dêv-dâd and in traditional Zoroastrian practice, dogs are allotted funerary rites analogous to humans. one of the places  where earth suffers most is where the bodies of men and dogs are buried  (Vi-dêv-dâd. 3.8). If a dog dies in a house, fire/flame is to be taken out of that  house, as when a human dies (Vi-dêv-dâd. 5.39-40), and the dog’s body is to be  carried like a human to a place of exposure to the elements (Vi-dêv-dâd 8.14).

A dog’s gaze is considered to be purifying and to drive off daävás (demonic powers) and  Nasü; the demon of rot, decay and nought.  sag-did or literally “dog’s sight,” is a Persian/Zoroastrian term, and refers to a funeral practice in which a dog is brought into where the deceased is laid, so that the dog can “cast gaze” on the dead. There are various spiritual benefits thought to be obtained by the ceremony. It is believed that the original purpose was to make certain that the person was really dead, since the dog’s more acute senses would be able to detect signs of life that a human might miss. A “four-eyed” dog, that is one with two spots on its forehead, is preferred for sag-did. The dog used for this task is ideally “brownish-golden with four eyes/two flecks of different-colored hairs just  above the eyes; with golden ears” (zairitəm  chathrü chashməm,  spaätəm  zairi.gaöshəm; Vi-dêv-dâd. 8.16).

In Vi-dêv-dâd 19.30 two dogs are said to stand at the chinvat/illumination  bridge, by the female figure of Daäná/insight, who there addresses the soul, and  in Vi-dêv-dâd 13.9 these are called the “passage-protecting or pəšü.pâna dogs or spâna.”

In Zoroastrianism, dogs/pets are fed in commemoration of the deceased person.  A portion of the food  offerings for the deceased is always given to a dog or pet (Boyce, Stronghold,  pp. 143-44, 158; Modi, pp. 404, 350). During the three days after death, if  there are no house dog/pets, a stray is given food for the soul’s sake at every  mealtime, and then, in Zoroastrian villages of Iran, once a day outside the house for the next thirty to forty  days (Boyce, Stronghold, pp. 153 and n. 30, 158).

– Ardeshir Fahramd.