The Sad Lives of Street Cats in Morocco

There are many attractions in this magnificent area, but the stray cats caught my attention.

Stray cats and dogs are considered pests in Morocco, not pets. By: kisluvkis

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.

There are no viable spay or neuter programs in Morocco — yet. By: Debora Lichtenberg/Petful

Dirty Animals?

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.

This little guy made his bed in a water basin. By: Debora Lichtenberg/Petful

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.

Stray cats and dogs are considered unclean in Morocco. By: Debora Lichtenberg/Petful

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.


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  1. L'mati Soukaina Reply

    Hello Dr. Debora, I am an 18 years old female Moroccan citizen, and I just read your article and it made my heart melt because I know the struggle if these animals in my country, and especially cats, I know they are treated like pests by most people, and they are saldy also sometimes physically abused. I actually care for all the cats I come across, I feed them and I try to find a safe place for them, and I also have 5 cats in my neighbourhood that I care for daily, by providing food and water for them, and sometimes medicine if I notice that they caught an illness, but I can unfortunately not take them in my house as I still live mmwith my parents and our catdied 3 years ago and my parents are too hurt and they don’t want to experience the same grief twice, Dr. Debora, it has been my dream to be able to provide for all of the cats in the world all they need, from food to love to a place to call home, and I am begging you to contact me if you ever decide to come back to Morocco, please do so ! A person as successful and as influencial as you would make my dream come true, and please also know that I am thinking about opening a cat sanctuary when I graduate college and find a job that pays enough , and please be sure that these cats WILL be adopted, I know so so many people in my city, who, like me, love cats so much and who would adopt all of them, and who would even volunteer in the sanctuary ! Here is my email : please contact me ! I will be waiting to hear from you.

    1. My P. Reply

      Hello both of You. I wish to get in contact. Discuss about the cats and solutions and the trying to help them. Also talk about shelter, sanctuary etc. I wish things about this me too. I am for now in Morocco and I have 12 cats close who choosed me. I love them and done all i could. A big problem is that i am alone. I wish contacts with others who are able to / and wish to / help cats. If we could be more people and discuss more we can find solutions and we can come somewhere with this. Please contact, Best Regards Marian info00996 at gmail dot com

      1. فصبر جميل ☘️ Reply

        Salam alaykum dear friends when I red your article I felt so bad and guilty cats and dogs in Morocco they suffering so badly we try me and my family to help them but we can’t help them all some cat street have broken arm and no one in our residence want to help him they ignored him I don’t find some one who can help if you sir need some one to be part of this good work contact me if and sister sokiyna if have some ideas to help me to make our cats and dogs in good health and give them their normal rights please contact me

        1. Melissa Smith Reply

          It’s admirable for you to help them, you’re awesome!

          1. فصبر جميل ☘️ Reply

            thanks a lot Mellissa you are so sweet and awsome

  2. BootheDeafKitty Reply

    I have become very close to a young woman who rescues 2-3 kitties a week in Morocco. I want her to start a crowd funder to help with her costs. Does anyone know if she needs any special paperwork filed to be an official rescue there? I care a great a great deal about her and applaud her efforts.

    1. Melissa Smith Reply

      What an awesome friend you are! Unfortunately, I am not sure what would be required by law in Morocco. Her best bet is to contact local shelters – they will likely have the information she needs!