Dozens of dogs barked simultaneously to greet their 41-year-old mistress Hesti Sutrisno as she opened the fence of their shelter home in the Tenjolaya area of Bogor Regency in Indonesia’s West Java province.
Wearing a niqab or an all-encompassing veil, Sutrisno stood so close to all 70 of her dogs, an extraordinary sight for a Muslim woman in the country, where most of them avoid having dogs or touching them because they are considered unclean.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Sutrisno said she used to be afraid of dogs and would never have one as a pet or feed them, but that fear vanished in 2015 when she saw a stray dog scavenging a pile of trash for food.
She decided to take the dog home and care for it because she felt bad about letting it stray on the street. She gave him the name John.
“At first, I was afraid to feed him, but my friend convinced me not to be afraid,” she added.
She said her affection for dogs grew over time, and she started to welcome more stray or abandoned dogs in her house.
Sutrisno, also a mother of two children, said she enjoys caring for dogs, especially when she sees them becoming healthier and cleaner after receiving treatment from her.
She is not alone in caring for these dogs at the “Green House” shelter. Sutrisno has hired seven people to help her.
It is not easy to care for these dogs, said Sutrisno. As a Muslim woman, “everyone discourages me from having them” because for them “dogs are unclean” from a religious standpoint.
Most Muslim scholars claim that dog saliva is ritually impure in Islam and that objects or people who come into contact with dog saliva must be washed seven times.
“I always purify myself after touching them, either by ‘wudhu’ [ablution for prayers]or taking a shower,” she said.
However, Islam allows for the ownership of a dog for hunting and as a watchdog, so in this case, I am cleaning the area of stray dogs and properly caring for them, she added.
Despite having a dog shelter on a land of 500 square meters (5,381 square feet), Sutrisno said she receives frequent complaints from the neighborhood about dogs barking. Some people criticize and insult her on social media, she said, adding: “But I avoid responding to them.”
Sutrisno also went on to say she is following health procedures and has permission from the village head and the district government to care for these dogs.
She has made every effort to ensure that her 70 dogs do not cause any disruption in the neighborhood and that all dogs have been vaccinated against rabies, she added.
The cost of dog food and health care is covered by the sale of cassava crackers and donations, said Sutrisno.
* Writing by Rhany Chairunissa Rufinaldo with Anadolu Agency’s Indonesian language services in Jakarta.