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Morocco has 3 million stray dogs. Meet the people trying to help them.

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Morocco has 3 million stray dogs. Meet the people trying to help them.

Tangiers, MoroccoIt’s still dark when Salima Qaddudi starts her day. In these pre-dawn hours, when the oppressive Moroccan heat dampens a thin blanket of mist and most of the city is still asleep, free-roaming dogs called bildis own the streets.

This August morning, my Qaddie was only driving for a few minutes when she noticed one of them: a medium-sized brown dog with a black muzzle and white paws. Baladi – which means “from the countryside” in Darga, the Arabic dialect used in Morocco – is an umbrella term used to describe mixed dogs native to the country.

Qadawi pulls her truck to the side of the road and climbs outside with a bag of dog food and a leash. The dog cautiously wags its tail, allowing it to bend down and hit its head. Then he accepts some food. (Learn how stray dogs understand human gestures.)

Five other dogs appear a short distance away and eagerly trot towards the kiddo, enjoying the attention and devouring their food. The Kaddi got a strap around one of the dog’s neck and then carried it – an impressive feat considering the two are nearly the same. She settles the dog into the back of the truck and then returns to two more people. The first male dog she saw, with white paws, turns himself away from the event, but continues to wag his tail and watches her quietly.

“We can’t take more than three this morning,” says Qadawi, founder of SFT Animal Sanctuary, a nonprofit that saves and cares for the Tangiers’ municipality. The three dogs – all of which have tested positive, a very common finding – will be spayed and vaccinated against rabies. The vet will also abort dog embryos as part of an effort to control the population. Next, the SFT crew will bring the dogs back onto the streets, a philosophy called Trap, Neutral, and Release (TNR).

At least 30,000 Baladis wander the streets of Tangiers alone, with an estimated three million in Morocco. Many of them live in squalid conditions, pick up leftovers from the litter and suffer injuries and diseases, including scabies, and in rare cases, rabies. It is estimated that around 80 people die of the disease in Morocco each year. Al-Qaddawi says that fear of rabies is the main reason why Moroccans hate Balads. data showing how often people bites are scattered and often unreliable, But there is a confirmed case of an Austrian tourist who was franticly stung by Beldi in the coastal city of Agadir and later died.

In 2017, El-Kidwi and his colleagues launched Project Hayat – which means “life” in Arabic – with the goal of making Tangiers the first rabies-free city in Africa, largely by vaccinating and sterilizing 30,000 dogs by 2025. So far, they’ve vaccinated and the release of more than 2,500 animals, with plans to increase this rate with financial support from the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior, which supports TNR.

Some residents, such as Agadir-based journalist Mohamed Reda Taoujni, are strongly against TNR programs for my country. He says that because rescue organizations don’t have the resources to nurture strays — and vaccinate them annually — throughout their lives, the humane approach is to euthanize them.

“There are hundreds of dogs out there,” he says. They’ve been vaccinated and we’re still having problems. This is not the solution. This is not good for our cities.”

In Tangiers, canines that cannot be released, like sick animals, go to the two-acre SFT Sanctuary, which currently houses more than 470 dogs. Since 2017, SFT has also adopted an estimated 60 dogs to families in Europe and the UK (U.S. adoption ended in July, when the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped importing dogs from countries considered high-risk for rabies.)

Qiddawi’s focus is on the bigger picture.

“Adoption is great – don’t get me wrong,” she says. “But we have 30,000 strays. The solution is not adoption. The solution is for humans to learn to live in harmony with and seek out dogs.” (Read how street dog adoption became popular in India.)

To this end, she hopes Tangiers will become a model community for cohabitation with dogs, a place where citizens report seeing a sick dog or laying down a bowl of water on a hot day.

The controversy surrounding Beldis

Qadawi takes the three Baldas off their morning commute to the California Veterinary Clinic, where Harsh’s vet, Mohamed Shakib, waits.

With a calm demeanor that contrasts with his lack of sleep, he jokingly refers to himself and the Qaddawis as “crazy people” for their round-the-clock commitment to these animals. When he carries the three dogs from the truck to his clinic, he cuddles them as if they were his own children.

In addition to vaccination and sterilization, a permanent yellow ear tag is given to each country that comes from the clinic with an identification number. Healthy and temperate dogs are returned to where they were first found; Their marks inform both the authorities and the public that they do not pose a danger to society. (Read about stray dogs living in a sanctuary in Costa Rica.)

However, this is not always enough to keep the animals safe. In cities across the country, authorities shot and poisoned Beldis in an effort to curb the wayward population. The Interior Ministry announced in 2019 that it would stop executing Beldis, and instead focus on sterilizing and vaccinating strays. The department did not respond to National Geographic’s requests for comment on Beldis and the TNR program.

But videos on social media have since shown that dogs continue to be arrested and shot by both the authorities and the public. Some dogs are beaten to death.

El-Qaddoui says that more than 99 percent of Morocco’s population is Muslim Many of them believe that dogs are unclean. But Al-Qaddawi, who describes herself as a Moroccan Muslim, rejects the idea as “utter nonsense”.

“The Qur’an does not say anything negative about dogs,” she says. “No living creature created by God is unclean.”

Most people don’t want Balds to suffer, including Taujani, a journalist who owns two dogs himself. But Tajini, who posts videos of the injuries he said were caused by Beldis on his Facebook page, says dogs are often dangerous. He notes that people in cities across Morocco have begun to carry small stones to throw in case they need to protect themselves, their children, or their pets.

Idris Semlali, who runs Malabata Guest House in Tangiers, says a more balanced approach is needed to run the Beldis, for example by moving them to a haven outside the city. He says that street dogs prevent his guests from feeling like they can walk safely, and that their incessant barking keeps people awake at night.

However, removing dogs — not to mention euthanasia — is likely to make the situation worse, says Terence Scott, technical leader at the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, a US-based nonprofit that works to end human and animal deaths from rabies in the whole world.

Scott says that if vaccinated dogs are removed from an area, new dogs — potentially infected with rabies — will simply take over the area. That’s why TNR for vaccinated animals has been shown to reduce disease spread, he says.

“Informally, a vaccinated dog can be considered a soldier in the fight against rabies,” he says. If an animal with rabies bites a vaccinated animal, the transmission of rabies will likely end there. So it really protects the rest of the community from rabies.”

Changing perceptions

Although they faced many challenges, both El Kedaoui and Chakib say they have made great strides in reducing rabies transmission in Tangiers, both through vaccinating animals and educating citizens. They visit schools regularly to teach children coping strategies with street dogs, such as not to approach or provoke the animals.

“One of the biggest issues is that Moroccans learn to fear dogs, and that dogs think they are in danger when they feel afraid,” she says. For example, a dog barking and running toward someone might seem aggressive, when in fact it’s just curious, she says.

Many Tangiers are increasingly protective of the municipality. A video went viral last year of a member of the Moroccan Royal Gendarmerie, part of the Moroccan armed forces, stopping traffic in the city to rescue a stray puppy. (Read how people in India feed stray dogs during the pandemic.)

“When I first started doing this, people thought I was crazy,” says El-Qaddawi. “Now they say good job and well, thank you. If we can get the whole community with us, we will win the battle.”

Beyond Tangiers

Tangier is not the only city improving the life of Beldis. Organizations such as Beldi Refuge Morocco in Chefchouen and Sunshine Animal Refuge (SARA) in Agadir also work to hunt, neuter and release dogs in their cities, as well as find homes for them abroad.

SARA Foundation Michele Augsburger has sent hundreds of Beldis home to Switzerland, as well as Germany and Canada. There’s even a Quebec Facebook group dedicated to Beldis which showcases their adventures abroad since they were rescued. It’s full of pictures of Beldis hiking in the woods and snuggling with cats on sofas.

“I get a lot of compliments from the people who adopted them and they are very proud of Beldis,” Augsburger says. “They are amazing. They have bigger hearts. They are really great dogs.”

Shakib and Qadawi echo these sentiments, adding that from a medical perspective, adopted Beldis tend to be more robust than purebred dogs and can live up to 17 years.

“If you want a dog that will likely live for many years without health issues, get my own,” says El-Kiddawi.

“Most rewarding job”

It’s the hottest part of the day when Kadawi passes through the door of her house in Malabata, a residential neighborhood in Tangiers. fifteen Beldis erupted in excitement, barking, jumping on tables, spinning in circles, tails wagging furiously.

Some of them are temporary residents recovering from various illnesses and surgeries, others are permanent members of the home. A handful of Beldis have undergone TNR and live on the streets, but still occasionally pop in to visit. The house has the energy of a playground full of children, which is fitting, given that Al Qaddawi refers to them as her children. (Read How Dogs Are More Like Us Than We Thought.)

“You have to be on duty all the time,” she says. “When dogs sleep, they sleep. When dogs wake up, they wake up. It’s not easy.

But the love and joy they provide are priceless. It’s the most rewarding job in the world.”

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