After an eye-opening and exhilarating week in Morocco, I just can’t get the animals out of my mind.
We saw fantastic mountains, had tea with nomads who live with 1,000-year-old traditions, saw Berber villages, rode into the Sahara on camels, slept in the desert, strolled through the ancient medina of Fes and experienced the exuberant energy of the wild souks of Marrakesh.
But it’s the street cats that are still with me. And not only the street cats but the occasional street dog, the docile donkeys carrying produce for the very poor people, the serene dromedaries chewing desert grass, the massive flocks of white sheep and black goats, the nomad dogs who wait for scraps from trucks, the illegally poached Barbary macaques who live in hell.
My feet are back in New York, but my heart is with the animals of Morocco.
The Imperial Street Cats of Morocco
The Imperial Cities, Fes, Casablanca and Marrakesh, are loaded with street cats. These cats are not riding any Marrakesh Express — they are riding the hunger train, the dirt train and the disease train.
But they are not feral. They are sweet. They like attention and pets. They often sleep curled up with a friend in a special place like a dry fountain, a planter or an ancient garden.
OK, you want the real story? I wanted to take them home. Absolute heartbreak. Enough said.
I picked these cats up. I gave them pets. I got in big trouble at an outdoor cafe by sharing my lamb chop with an orange-and-white scruff-muffin (restaurant owners consider them pests, and I was being disrespectful). The cat needed the lamb chop way more than I did.
A European child picked up a gorgeous kitty in an ancient palace. The kitty most likely had ringworm, given what the cat’s nose and face looked like. The mom (in French) said, “Put that down and wash your hands.”
Good advice, I guess. But that didn’t stop me from picking up the kitty and cuddling her for as long as possible.
Morocco is a Muslim country. The people I encountered were gentle, kind and spiritual. But street cats and dogs are, for much of the population, considered unclean.
This is cultural. I know people have pampered dogs (and some cats) in their homes, but this is more of a European sensibility. The street cats of Morocco are not going to be adopted as beloved pets any time soon.
No Spay — No Neuter
I saw many queens with big, fat, pregnant bellies. And the toms prowled ancient gardens and palaces, spraying rose bushes and date palm trees, yowling for a hookup. One little pregnant kitty was mewing from a high ledge behind a fixed iron gate. Her belly was so big she could not get that big abdomen full of kittens through the opening.
The shopkeepers in the ancient medina fed her on her perch. We tried to communicate but had little success. I know a teeny bit of French but no Arabic. My hope is that she had the kittens safely in the alley. She could fit through the ironwork after birthing and go back and forth to feed her kittens.
There are miles to go before this country can begin any spay/neuter program.
Life as a Street Cat
Street cats were thrown scraps, they were welcome mousers, they attracted tourists (like me), and they were treated with affection and liked human contact. But they were dirty, had conjunctivitis, parasites and respiratory and skin diseases.
There is no medical care and a lot of rampant disease for animals, much like in the human population. The people also had missing teeth, bone fractures that were never treated and unchecked diabetes.
For the cats and dogs, I wanted to stay for a month and do daily eye treatments, try to sterilize and much more. No, not for a week or a month. For a year. For whatever it would take. But that is not realistic at this moment.
These homeless kitties in Morocco make do in a landscaped bush:
Returning to America
I’ve been on the hard lines in my career as far as street cats go — bad inner-city nightmares as well as rural situations.
I remember walking into concrete backyards of 60-plus cats looking for food, working for catch-and-release programs on college campuses, dealing with hoarder situations where I needed mental health services to help me save 100 cats in a hoarder’s home. But I was always able to find a safety net for these kitties.
In a country like Morocco? Guess what: These kitties will not find homes. There is no safety net. They will be street cats. They will survive by their wits, and not much else will be given to them.
If I ever actually retire, I will need something to do. I can see a day when I could spay and neuter cats for a month at a time and improve a drop in the neglected Moroccan cat bucket. For now, I treat our fantastic cats here and tell them every day that they are “very lucky,” as are we.
While everyone else was taking pictures of the magnificent sights of Morocco, I was drawn to the cats. They live in my heart.