Sayed Mahdi Tabatabaei, a Shiite Muslim, rescues stray dogs and posts about his activities to his 800,000 Instagram followers.
Mr Tabatabaei opened Bamak Paradise, a rescue shelter in Qom, a city that is home to several religious schools in north-central Iran, where he nurses neglected strays.
His passion is somewhat controversial – in Iran dogs are generally seen as unclean and are sometimes shunned.
In 2019, animal rights activists turned out onto the streets of the Iranian capital Tehran after videos emerged showing dogs and puppies being killed via gruesome state-approved injections.
Islam is against animal cruelty, and across Middle Eastern countries food and water is left aside for stray cats. However, in Iran dogs are taboo, and there are no regulations in place to protect them against animal cruelty.
The Iranian regime, which has ruled the country since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, states dogs are “unclean”.
Mr Tabatabaei, a self-proclaimed animal lover who wears the Shiite black turban, said he acknowledges his passion is unconventional.
“It’s pretty interesting and kind of weird for them to witness a religious figure doing this stuff,” he told the Associated Press.
“My videos seem to leave a good impression on people too. They say they feel a wave of kindness, peace, and friendship coming through those videos.”
His fame has landed him in hot water with the Iranian authorities. When pictures appeared of him looking after dogs while wearing his clerical robes, a religious court called for him to be defrocked in 2021.
The ruling was later suspended, but Mr Tabatabaei now wears civilian clothes while tending to the dogs and cleaning their kennels at Bamak Paradise.
“We take in dogs with disabilities that cannot survive in the wild and have a hard time finding adoptive homes,” he said.
“Many of them are dogs I’ve personally nursed back to health. They stay here until they fully recover and regain their strength.”
To fund the rescue shelter he relies on donations from animal lovers in Iran and abroad, an increasingly tenuous task as the country’s banking system is cut off from other nations, making it difficult to transfer funds.
The US has also ramped up its economic sanctions in an ongoing debacle over Iran’s disputed nuclear programme.
“I appeal to Western governments, particularly the US government and others capable of influencing the lifting of sanctions, to consider making exceptions for organisations like ours that engage in humanitarian and peaceful endeavors,” Mr Tabatabaei said.
“By allowing us to establish bank accounts and verifying our identities, we would be able to receive assistance from individuals and charities outside of Iran without them breaching the sanctions and risking legal complications.”