A small animal sanctuary near Tangier has launched an initiative to neuter, vaccinate, and treat a large part of Tangier’s stray dog population.
By Natasha Maldi
Rabat – Salima ‘Sally’ Kadaoui lived alongside the stray animal population as a young girl in Tangier. She often fed and played with one dog in particular, whom she called “Bonita.” A few days after giving birth to a litter of puppies, Bonita began to crumble before Sally’s eyes. Local authorities had poisoned her in an attempt to control the stray dog population.
Sally remembers watching Bonita dying slowly, too weak to move, as her newborn pups still tried to suckle. This moment catalyzed Sally’s mission to end animal suffering in Morocco. “That’s when I decided I wanted to change my country,” she said.
“For over 50 years, Moroccan authorities have focused on culling—the targeted poisoning and killing of dogs—to combat rabies and control stray populations,” Sally wrote to me. “Culling has been the only government response to stray animal populations.” Culling includes both poisoning and shooting, both of which can be very painful for the targeted animal.
To save dogs like Bonita, Sally founded Le Sanctuaire de la Faune de Tanger (known familiarly as SFT Animal Sanctuary) in 2013 as a place for neglected, abused, wounded, or troubled animals. Located 30 kilometers from the center of Tangier, its 7 acres of land accommodates more than 550 animals (350 dogs, 120 cats, 35 donkeys, 30 animals with disabilities, two monkeys, and one stork with an injured wing). Sally knows all of them by name.
“I would take in every street animal if I could,” Sally lamented, but the sanctuary has a relatively small capacity compared to Tangier’s stray dog population, estimated at a staggering 30,0000. So in 2017, Project Hayat was born.
“The only way to control the population of the strays is to neuter,” reads the Sanctuary’s website, “the only way to eradicate diseases is to treat and vaccinate.” Project Hayat catches stray dogs and then neuters, treats, and vaccinates them before returning the dogs to their neighborhood with a yellow tag on each ear to designate them as rabies-free.
While culling has unsuccessfully attempted to end rabies transmission through targeted killing, Project Hayat eradicates rabies from the source. “If there weren’t dogs on the streets, we would have a huge problem with waste, trash, and rats—which carry disease,” Sally added, emphasizing that “for each dog we vaccinate, we build a herd of immunity.”
Project Hayat also includes an education arm to dispel the community’s fear of stray dogs, teach Moroccans strategies for how to respond to potentially dangerous animals, and encourage compassion for local animal populations.
To date, more than 25,000 students—from primary school to university—have been educated about animal welfare through Project Hayat. The Sanctuary recently hired a dedicated staff member for community outreach due to increased demand for educational resources.
Indeed, Sally has seen a marked change in Moroccan’s attitudes towards animals since SFT’s founding. Many Tangerois now take care of injured dogs, feed abandoned kittens, and call Sally when they need help with a stray. They’ve even taken a strong stance against culling: “Moroccans are literally going in front of the guns to stop the authorities from shooting dogs.”
Sally and the Sanctuary’s work have garnered attention far beyond Tangier’s city limits. The Dodo produced a video about the Sanctuary in November 2018, amassing more than 4.5 million views on Facebook.
Yahoo News, Fox News, and Morocco World News have published articles highlighting the sanctuary’s mission. SFT also received the GARC Global Alliance for Rabies Control Award 2018, voted on by the WHO world health organization, CDC center for disease control, UN United Nations FAO and the OIE World Organization for Animal Health. Despite these recognitions, Sally insists that Tangier—and eventually all of Morocco—have a long way to go.
“Morocco has two choices,” Sally insists, “We can carry on with the mass culling, give a horrible message to the rest of the world, and go against our own religion, or we can have healthy dogs, eradicate rabies, show what Islam is all about, and be an example to the rest of the world.”
For more information or to donate, please visit www.sftmorocco.org/projecthayat. SFT Animal Sanctuary frequently updates its Instagram page, which can be found at @animalsanctuary_tangier.