Nfld. & Labrador

From a puppy mill in Iran to a new life for spunky St. John's dog

Amitis Partovi of St. John's is part of a small group of international volunteers working to rescue dogs from Iran.

Caution: This story contains images that might upset some people

Amitis Partovi with Asal, the dog she brought to St. John's from Iran. (CBC )

Racing around full tilt at a dog park in St. John's, the tawny little canine was unrecognizable as the same one as in a video from when she was in a shelter in Iran.

In that video, the dog, Asal, seems listless, submissive. 

Asal, a mixed-breed dog who spent her early life in a puppy mill in Iran, runs in a dog park in St. John's. Amitis Partovi of St. John's adopted her. (CBC )

But three years later, near the shores of Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John's, Asal was bold, even bossy, as she chased joyously after much bigger dogs and claimed their territory.

"She's an extremely spunky dog and she's got a lot of attitude," said owner Amitis Partovi.

Once Amitis Partovi of St. John's saw this image of a dog at a shelter in Iran, she decided to adopt the animal — now named Asal, which means "honey" in Farsi. (CBC )

Partovi, who was born in Iran but grew up in Canada, started volunteering just under a year ago to help save dogs from Iran.

Came from a puppy mill 

Omid Animal Rescue and Adoption is based out of Isfahan, Iran. It posts haunting videos online of animals that have been abused or neglected, as well as heartwarming pictures of some of the dogs that have been adopted.

Believe it or not, it's the same dog in each photo. The image on the right shows Daisy at the shelter run by Omid Animal Rescue & Adoption in Iran. The photo on the left was taken just a few months later, after a family adopted Daisy. (Submitted by Omid Animal Rescue & Adoption )

Asal spent time in the shelter before Partovi decided to adopt her. The dog's name means "Honey" in Farsi.

Partovi believes that with her perky curled tail and golden fur, Asal might be a mix of Russian Spitz as well as breeds indigenous to Iran.

The animal came from a puppy mill. Partovi said her best guess is that Asal was deemed undesirable because she wasn't able to get pregnant, and that she spent a year and a half in a cage. 

She described conditions at puppy mills in Iran as horrendous, saying the animals are often physically abused, malnourished and kept in their cages without ever being let out.

"I've seen a lot of dogs that come from puppy mills and they're in such terrible condition," said Partovi, adding that similar conditions can be found at breeding mills in the United States and other countries. 

Adopted neglected Newfoundland beagle first 

Partovi said strays also face difficult lives in Iran. She said that it's become trendy for families to get dogs as a mark of social status, but that the responsibilities involved can overwhelm the owners.

Partovi said in those cases, the owners sometimes put the animals out on the street. 

Stray dogs in the desert in Iran, as volunteers give them some food. (Submitted by Omid Animal Rescue & Adoption )

Some strays get hit by cars, or abused by humans. Many are malnourished.

However, Partovi pointed out that animal neglect is not an issue exclusive to Iran.

Before getting Asal, Partovi and her husband adopted a beagle from the city shelter in St. John's. Marten — named for the famous Newfoundland pine marten — was found in the woods, skinny from lack of food. He'd been used for hunting and had never been inside a house. 

Homeless puppies in Iran eating meat provided by volunteers. (Submitted by Omid Animal Rescue & Adoption)

Asal is smaller than the beagle: she can be picked up easily and is not much bigger than a cat. 

Her larger-than-life personality inspired Partovi to help save other dogs like Asal.   

Omid Animal Rescue and Adoption is made up of a small group of volunteers, some inside Iran and others in countries including Germany and Canada.

The shelter in Isfahan, Iran provides food and medical care.

Marten the beagle at a dog park in St. John's, with Asal behind him. Amitis Partovi and her husband named Marten, adopted from a local shelter after being found hungry and alone in the woods, after the pine marten. (CBC )

The organization works to find travellers willing to take a dog with them when they leave Iran. That's how the animals get to the new owners who await their arrival. As well, animal foster groups such as Ontario's Niagara Dog Rescue or Save Our Scruff often find temporary homes for the dogs until they're adopted.

A travel agent in London, Ontario volunteers time to make travel arrangements for the dogs.

All dogs get rabies shots, other vaccines and deworming medication before they leave the shelter in Iran. They are also spayed or neutered. The group straightens out medical records and arranges exit authorizations in preparation for the international travel.

One of the dogs in Iran that found shelter with Omid Animal Rescue & Adoption. (Submitted by Omid Animal Animal Rescue & Adoption)

People who adopt the animals cover transportation costs.

St. John's woman has saved 20 dogs

Partovi said people can help Omid Animal Rescue and Adoption in several ways: by adopting, making donations or connecting the organization with foster groups.

Her efforts with the group have already saved 20 animals. Partovi said she's exhilarated each time she arranges a placement. 

Asal, on the left, plays with Marten the beagle on the right. In the background, a boxer puppy races around the dog park near Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John's. (CBC )

She's working to bring a dog to a new home in St. John's.  It's more complicated to bring them to Newfoundland and Labrador because one travel "buddy" needs to be found for the trip from Iran to Toronto, and another for the trip from Toronto to St. John's. 

At the dog park in St. John's, Partovi laughed at the way other dogs became submissive around the Iranian dog. Asal is fond of growling playfully while running toward the biggest animals at speeds that belie her short legs. 

"We just know that she's a very special dog," said Partovi.

"All these animals are special in their own way and they all need a chance, regardless of whether they're in Canada or anywhere else," she said, encouraging people to support any animal rescue organization anywhere in the world.