149: Moroccan Strays, or how I became the local cat lady

In Morocco, it is not very customary for people to have pets, at least, not pets in the way that most Americans think of their pets: as members of the family. If people have a dog, it is usually a guard dog, and it is kept OUTside the house, to alert the people in the house if someone comes. Generally, in Islamic cultures, dogs are considered unclean creatures, because they have this nasty habit (when they are wild dogs, or NOT pets) of eating garbage, dead things, and licking parts of their bodies that are also generally considered unclean. Many devout Muslims won’t touch a dog. There are stray dogs in Morocco, but not too many, since someone will usually take one (especially if it is male) for a guard dog.

Moroccan dog: a sheepdog cross

Cats in Morocco, however, are another story. Cats are considered to be vermin: sort of like a large rat. They also, when feral (wild) will eat garbage and dead things, and lick themselves in nasty places, but no one wants a cat for a guard animal. As a result, they are viewed as mostly useless creatures that eat food someone else could be eating, and as occasionally doing humans a small favor by killing a mouse. Because of this attitude, there are LOTS of stray cats in Morocco.

Watching the world go by…

This is a problem for me. I have always, always, always had a cat or two. In fact, when I was growing up, my mother paid her way through graduate school by raising underfoot and selling registered Siamese kittens (applehead; sealpoint, bluepoint, lilacpoint: for those of you who know what that means). Since we had three to four registered queens (mamas) and one registered tom (papa), when all four had litters of kittens at the same time we could have as many as forty to fifty cats and kittens in the house at once. Fortunately, that did not happen often. My dad tolerated this since each duly registered and sold kitten brought several hundred dollars – in the 1970’s. In our house cat hair was a way of life, and if you sat down, there was always a laptop who quickly arrived and asked for cuddles and scratchies – usually two or three. As a result, I understand kitties very well, and I know how loving they can be.

When we arrived in Morocco, our very first evening out (after we slept about twenty hours getting over the flight and five-hour drive from Casablanca), we found the local village marche (commercial area) and chose an outdoor cafe for a meal. As we ate our delicious rotisserie chicken with all the trimmings, several marche cats slipped under our chairs. Being a kitty person, I began accidently dropping my chicken bones. I noticed my husband was doing the same. There was one lovely black cat with huge golden eyes who would very politely and gently place one paw on my thigh occasionally, as if to say, “I finished the last one, and it was wonderful – do you mind if I have another?”

All of those kitties were adults, and all were fairly healthy-looking, living there at the marche near all the cafes and restaurants (not to mention the meat market). I felt no burning need to adopt one, since they all seemed to be doing well. Plus, adopting an older cat is sometimes a tough business: they are already set in their ways. It’s like trying to marry a bachelor, thirty years of age, who still lives at home and lets his mama take care of him. It’s not going to turn out well – oh, wait: I DID that the first time. Explains why I have a SECOND husband.

Anyhoo, I waited until Spring, when the year’s new crop of kittens arrived, and then I catnapped one. Moroccan cats are notoriously skittish, and most will NOT let you close enough to touch them, even the marche cats who are accustomed to people feeding them still mostly keep a wary distance. They are this skittish because most Moroccans throw stones at them, kick them if they can and generally treat them like the vermin they think that they are. This type of behavior on the part of most of the humans that the cats see does not make for friendly cats.

Quiet moment

This kitten had huge ears, and was looking the other way when I swooped down on her and scooped her up in my scarf. I know better than to surprise one with my bare hands. I took her home, petting her and cooing to her all the way, and when I got there, I bribed her with cheese. She decided it might not be too bad to stay. Since then, one by one, I have brought home others who are either adopted by other people, or stay with us. Since I know cats quite well, I socialize our kittens like I used to handle and treat my mother’s Siamese, like they are small, furry children: sisters and brothers of mine.

This causes astonishment when Moroccans come to our apartment, and see our cats sitting calmly in a lap, purring. Moroccans are amazed that our cats will approach people and ask for petting. Our cats have never been mistreated and so do not fear people, and they act like the loving creatures that they can be. Humsa (Arabic for number five) likes to go next door to the mosque at the times when prayers are called, and he waits for the people to come by and pet him – and they DO, because of his very sweet disposition, which is a rarity for Moroccan cats. My husband even saw our landlord chew out a motorist who nearly ran over Humsa in the street outside our apartment building. The Arabic probably included a warning about children playing in the street, too – but it was Humsa he defended. I consider this to be great progress for Moroccan kitties!!

 

 

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30 thoughts on “149: Moroccan Strays, or how I became the local cat lady

  1. Hi.
    I am a desperate tourist and cat lover right now. I know there are tons of stray cats in Rabat, but I have to get the word out about this:
    Dear Claire and Rob,

    I saw a white and orange tabby kitten on September 23 in Rabat, at the Andalucian Gardens of the Kasbah of the Udayas.The kitten had a very badly infected eye and it was oozing. This kitten needs a vet asap.

    I felt awful as a tourist running in and out of the city that day, not knowing hos to speak Arabic or where a vet would be. Please if you have any Rabat connections at all, pass this message to them and help this kitten.
    I will be happy to handle vet bills.

    Sarah Weisman
    sarahmagi@gmail.com

  2. I’m really sorry if my second attempt to email you was already received. I am traveling and not sure what my iPhone is doing.
    I am sorry for the “Dear …” Typo in the first email. I tried to contact an organization earlier and they ignored me once they learned I am not in Rabat any longer.
    I read about an Adan Street Cat Shelter in Rabat but there website is down and I don’t know if they still exist or how to contact them.
    Any other help would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks,
    Sarah Weisman
    sarahmagi@gmail.com

    • So sorry – I do not yet have Internet access at home on the weekends, and we had a holiday. It is heartbreaking to see a cat (or a person, for that matter) that you KNOW could be helped with a doctor visit, and to be unable to help, and unable to adopt and care for them. I do not know of a shelter – I have HEARD of shelters in Fez, but don’t know specifics. I adopted eleven, and got all but three of them homes in Morocco before I left for Panama. The other three made the flight here. Cats live 15-20 years, and I have fur children for the duration of their lives. Wish I could have helped more kitties, too.

  3. oh GREAT – wherever I travel I feed the cats, I am at risk of taking them home, and I accidentally drop food wherever I go as well……good for you

    • What is annoying and gratifying at the same time is that the cats will bypass ME and go to my husband. That is the best character reference for a human being that there is. Explains why I have a second husband.

  4. please contact A. D. A. N in Rabat (This brother and sister team kindly helped me sterilize 6 cats so far). I am flying out on Wednesday for 5 days and plan on sterilizing as many cats as possible .Going with 40kgs food for the cats in my area of Rabat which is Harhourra. Also please try to feed the dustbin cats as they are desperate for food(no cat wants to spend its life sittin near dustbins waiting for scraps unless they really had to!)

    • I’d like to save more of them, but I saved those I could, and found homes for others. One at a time!!! Glad you are working to save others.

      • I’ m so glad to hear that I am not the only ‘ cat lady ‘ in Rabat! Thank you for your compassion for all animals (what you have done so far is amazing and I am so glad to hear that there are animal lovers feeding and caring for the cats in Rabat . Can I just ask you how you found homes for some cats? as I was desperate to find my suzu and Mitzi homes (2sisters from the original batch of kitties that were born to a cat who decided to give birth in the garden of our rented apartment).Managed to have them sterilized after they were giving birth to dead kittens now they are thriving! The difference in my girls after sterilization has been amazing . I wanted to find them homes as they are very loving and stroll into our apartment whenever we open the door . Life is harsh for street cats but at the same time I have also met many compassionate Moroccans who leave food out for cats or offer to help me feed them ( some appear to be slightly amused by the crazy cat lady carrying cat food in her bag !) please contact a.d.a.n association de defense des animaux et de la nature they have a Facebook page , the main guy is a lovely young man called Ahmed tazi( managed to speak to him as he can speak basic English but he’s more fluent in French and Arabic. I would suggest taking any injured cat to them as they will genuinely try to help . I give them a donation as they do not ask for money but they do need more funds .

      • I taught at a school with 125 students, plus faculty, that was affiliated with a University with even more potential homes. It is not easy, even if they are neutered and up to date on meds.

      • Ahh, ok I suppose being a teacher Meant being able to have contact with more people . I just come and go for 5 days as my husband owns a gym in Rabat which he checks on regularly( don’t normally stay longer than a week as I have my own 4 cats at home in the uk ). Yeah I Know it’s hard to home cats out there as there are so many of them . The best I can do is feed as many as possible and sterilize as many as I can while I am out there as the neighbours are complaining that there are too many cats in the area and hopefully neutering them wil make a difference.

    • Hi! Do you have contact info for ADAN? Where are they located? I want to help with donations.
      Thanks!
      Tandy

  5. Sorry, forgot to add their address -74 Rue Dahomey n 4-5 Dior Ejjamaa, rabat , Maroc. Also their Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/assoadan . If you can speak Arabic or French you can contact Habiba Tazi on 00212.6.61.40.70.37 I have not tried to contact them for a while as I normally do when I visit Rabat so I hope all details are correct .

  6. Thanks for sharing the contact information!

    • Glad to help! The best place for your money to go(in my opinion)is towards sterilisation which is where I donated to a.d.a.n after they helped me to sterilise 9 cats in our back garden.Its the only humane way to control the ever increasing cat population in Morocco. The poor little darlings need a break from constantly giving birth and their daily hunt for survival amongst all the hustle and bustle of Rabat .

  7. Hello! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new apple iphone!
    Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts!
    Carry on the superb work!

  8. cats are not considered vermin in morocco at all, if any thing they are much more welcomed than dogs, although not many people let them in the houses but they still collectively take good care of them and feed them regularly, which explains the number of cats in morocco, they are also as you said well fed and friendly and quite around humans (many cats won’t even budge as you come closer to them because they usually are not afraid of humans) and many have mastered the art “adorable face of begging for food”
    many people in morocco think that cats are clean and they help with pest control (thousand year old cities have thousand year old problems a.k.a rodents)

  9. in 2014 an american want to teach us to treat cats well 😀 a sign of the end of the world!

    if these cats approched you, it’s because we treat them well, a cat don’t make a difference between an indoeuropean or a semite, or a Muslim and a Christian

    anyway we treat cats better than you, even if we will not allow them at home, at least we don’t remove their balls and force them to become an Eunuch !

    • Goodness. So much anger. I certainly hope that your life runs more smoothly than this day did for you. Losing your testicles isn’t the end of the world, it generally sweetens the temperament of most of the male animals it happens to. Case in point. Have a lovely day – certainly a better one than the one you were in when you replied to this blog.

    • Woah there Yassine! as a muslim cat lover from the UK I have helped to sterilize 9 of my beloved cats who I fed regularly while I visited Rabat. if you heard the heartbreaking cries of the kittens left alone to die because of either abandonment or( Allah knows how they came to be alone) you would realize why I was determined to stop further kittens and cats going through the misery of continuous reproducing and the male’s ripping each other to bits because of fighting over females. My beloved Mitzie was giving birth although she was still a young kitten and her babies were dying and it was me and my son who had to go through the heartache of nursing them till they slipped away.Luckily there is a wonderful organization called A.D.A.N who will take kittens and treat and sterilize them. THERE ARE TOO MANY UNWANTED CATS IN MORROCCO YASSINE! I have 4 cats of my own and the best thing I ever did for them was to have them sterilized as now they are not roaming the streets for days looking for females and my female cat Fuji has no kittens for me to give away. Kittens are not sweets that you can give away to anyone they are an amanah (trust). Sterilization is better and allowed in islam compared to poisoning them and killing them because there are too many (which sadly many countries are doing). I don’t give a toss where anyone is from as long as they are merciful to animals they are welcome in any land in my view. AS for your views on cats not being allowed in homes its complete ignorance as cats are not makrooh .please read the hadiths concerning Aisha R.A. and the wudu water the cat had drank from. Also the cats roam freely in makkah and madinah masjids as they are not impure far from it.This is a major misunderstanding amongst many muslims unfortunately. If you need authentic hadith I will try inshallah to forward them to you regarding cats in islam.

      • It was so nice to read your heart-felt comments and you are right on!! My daughter is volunteering with and fundraising for ADAN. This organization seems to be growing as more people are getting involved with it. We need more vets to provide subsidized sterilization of street cats. And the municipality needs to get involved. I lived in Abu Dhabi where the municipality outsources a street cat sterilization program (of course they have more resources for this than Morocco, but they used to round them up and dump them in the desert! So great progress!) Bless you for all the love and care you gave the Rabati cats. And thanks for the info on cats in Islam.

    • Wow, Eunuch? Is it better to poison them? Is it better to dump them in a desert or run over with a car? Is it better to watch kittens cry cause they’re hungry? Is cat sex really that important to their existence? You know, sex is one of the leading causes for most of our world’s problems! if some people practiced birth control we wouldn’t have poverty, over population, horrible pollution and abandoned children. You need to rethink this lady!

  10. HI TANDZ, IM SO HAPPY TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR DAUGHTER SUPPORTING ADAN! (THOSE GUYS ARE AMAZING IN THEIR DEDICATATION TO THE LOCAL STREET CATS/DOGS).ALSO I’M GLAD TO HEAR THEY ARE EXPANDING AS I HAVEN’T BEEN BACK TO MOROCCO SINCE LAST FEBUARY SADLY. GOD BLESS ANYONE WHO SHOWS MERCY TO ANIMALS REGARDLESS OF RACE OR RELIGON (LET THE ALMIGHTY JUDGE BETWEEN US!) SO THERES NO NEED TO MENTION THAT. IN MY OPINION THERE ARE GOOD AND BAD IN ALL NATIONALITIES BUT ONE THING I HAVE OBSERVED WHEN SO CALLED ‘WESTERNERS’ STAY IN MUSLIM LANDS THEY ARE THE ONES WHO ARE ACTIVE IN RESCUEING NEEDY ANIMALS AS IS THE CASE IN SAUDI WHERE P.A.W.S. WAS SET UP BY A PASSIONATE VET FROM NEW ZEALAND AND THE NEWBORN KITTY I FOUND IN MAKKAH CITY IN A DESPERATE STATE WAS SAVED BY AN AMAZING GERMAN VET CALLED INGRID WHO REGULARLY FLEW FROM RIYADH TO JEDDAH TO TREAT AND STERILIZE LOCAL CATS. SO PLEASE DONT FEEL DISHEARTENED BY YASSINE’S COMMENTS, HE’S MISGUIDED IN A LOT OF HIS VIEWS. NOW I’M NOT SLATING ALL MOROCCANS AS WHEN I USED TO FEED THE CATS IN RABAT SOUK I HAD MANY EAGER AND HELPFUL LOCALS THANKING ME AND DISTRUBUTING FOOD TO THE KITTIES (ALL MEN STRANGELY)LOL! SO THERE ARE COMPASSSIONATE PEOPLE BUT… THERE ARE JUST TOO MANY STRAY CATS AND I THINK THATS WHEN THEY BECOME A NUISANCE FOR THOSE WHO ARE NOT CAT LOVERS. HOPEFULLY ATTITUDES ARE CHANGING ESPECIALLY IN THE YOUNGER GENERATION BUT STERILIZATION IS A MUST IF THESE ANIMALS CAN HAVE HALF A CHANCE TO LIVE BETTER LIVES..PHEW!

  11. I don’t Sharm your point of view. I live in Rabat and I admire how many locals help out cats. They walk around restaurants, local guards look after them, even lately I saw 2 kittens at Paul’s with a bowl of milk. I’m sure there are bad people, but generally there is a friendly attitude towards cats. The reason there are many is because nobody likes spaying here! Think about it, if people threw rocks at them, they would be friendly. Also, it’s awful you just took a kitty from a street unles he was sick. There is a shelter in Rabat called ADAN, there are so many needy cats there for taking! Personally, I hate to hear about people breeding cats and dogs for profit. That’s very selfish. It seemed like your mom had hundreds of them! Many of them probably ended up declawed and as unwanted Christmas presents. I think that breeding diminishes chances of adoption for animals that are already here. Why do we need more animals, when shelters are full?

    • Not everyone will adopt a shelter cat, even in today’s “enlightened” society. In the 1970’s when our family raised Siamese, there was not the emphasis on adopting rescue animals, or the emphasis on spaying and neutering to prevent unwanted, mistreated animals like there is today in the 2010’s. There are many reputable breeders even today of both dogs and of cats. Purchase and adoption of purebred animals carries the exact same risk as adopting a rescue animal – not everyone adopting gives the animal proper care. Breeders who are reputable screen their customers to be sure, or as sure as possible, that the animal is going to a good home. So should shelters, but that was not the case when I adopted my shelter cats. The shelter was simply grateful that someone was willing to take a cat, period. It is good that some people are compassionate towards stray/feral animals, as you have witnessed. The point is that too many people are not. Spaying and neutering of stray/feral cats reduces their populations, allowing those already living a better chance at survival, not having to compete with so many others for the available resources.

  12. I have been to Morocco 3 times now to see my husband. When the cats I want to take them home

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