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In dog-walking, Saudi virtue police see vice

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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."

Upstairs in the store, university student Rabah Al Shuwaier, her face completely veiled in black except for her eyes, was visiting the vet with two of her six kittens: Snow white "Sugar" and light brown "Caramel."

"I know that having a pet at home and taking care of it is permissible under Islamic law," Ms. Shuwaier said. "But I'm not sure about the ruling on selling and buying cats and dogs. They wouldn't say it's wrong unless they had a reason to."

Salesmen at the pet shop said they'd received no official notification of the ban.

The Commission to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice, as the religious police are formally known, did not respond to e-mailed questions about its dog-walking concerns from the Monitor.

More than a week after Al Hayat newspaper disclosed the ban, no Saudi official had come forward to clarify that the written version does not include dog-walking, or to explain how people can now acquire dogs and cats.

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