Arctic sled dog breeds such as Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes are becoming common pets in Morocco. But can the average Moroccan responsibly care for these expensive and high-maintenance dogs?
Rabat – Three years ago, a 17-year-old named Aymane began to dream of owning a Siberian Husky.
“They look beautiful with their eyes and coat,” he said of the wolfish dog breed. “They’re not aggressive like other dogs.”
Although a self-proclaimed dog lover, Aymane was not aware of the breed’s temperament or specific needs. His interest in having the dog was essentially driven by superficial fixations.
“I want to show off,” he admitted. “Everyone thinks it’s cool to have a Husky. The dogs get attention.”
“The shabaab only want Huskies to impress other people,” interjected Aymane’s disapproving older brother. “If they really loved dogs, they would save one from the streets instead of buying a pure race.”
Aymane’s silence expressed his agreement with this bold generalization.
Unfortunately for Aymane, his family’s apartment in Temara is not suitable to house a dog. While a decent size, the apartment is on the fourth floor of the building and doesn’t have access to a garden or balcony. Aymane, now 20, is also a student and works when he’s not in school.
Simply put: “My parents said no.”
His parents’ decision was ultimately the responsible one. But their awareness of the amount of time and resources needed to properly take care of a pet is not shared by all dog owners throughout Morocco–especially among those who only want a dog to “show off.”
Sled dogs: intelligent, stubborn, and nomadic
Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes have become common pets for Moroccans all over the country.
These dogs are similar in appearance, having historically been bred above the Arctic Circle for their strength, energy, and resilience. They are pack dogs, difficult to train, in need of a lot of exercise and open space, and they prefer cold climates.
The prevalence of these Arctic sled dogs in a country characterized by its high temperatures and tightly-packed cities is surely an eyebrow-raising phenomenon, particularly as they are often seen running freely along busy streets or tied up in direct sunlight.
Although these dogs can adapt to warm climates, unfavorable living conditions often exacerbate the negative aspects of the breeds’ temperaments. And unless a Husky or Malamute owner is experienced in meeting the breed’s unique needs, these dogs are very challenging to care for.
The Kennel Club (KC) recommends owners of both breeds to exercise the dogs for at least two hours every day, but not in temperatures above 24 C (75 F) as they risk dehydration and overexertion.
If these dogs don’t receive an adequate amount of daily stimulation, they become agitated, noisy, and destructive.
Mahmoud, a 28-year-old man from Sefrou, surely understands the breeds’ disdain for heat, small spaces, and idleness. He had a mixed-race husky for just two months before the dog, named Lisya, jumped from the second-floor balcony of his apartment and ran away.
The adult dog was given to Mahmoud in the summer of 2018, when temperatures in the Fes-Meknes region routinely topped 33 C (91 F).
Despite going for daily runs and receiving plenty of affection, the small apartment and scorching heat pushed Lisya to her boiling point, prompting her to make a dangerous escape. Mahmoud, wrought with grief, spent weeks searching for her to no avail. He believes she was picked up and sold.
For Husky owners around the world, Mahmoud’s story is quite relatable.
This is because Siberian Huskies are widely known for being escape artists: they can free themselves from almost any enclosure if they are hot, stressed, anxious, or simply bored.
Huskies can easily dig under fences, jump over walls up to 1.83 meters (6 feet) high, unlock gates and cages, unlatch doors and windows, and squeeze through small openings. And, based on Mahmoud’s experience, they can withstand falls from at least 6.6 meters (~22 feet) high.
On top of this, Huskies and Malamutes can slip out of regular dog collars and will run whenever the opportunity arises.
So why are so many Moroccan men and women eager to bring these high-maintenance, expensive, and mischievous dogs into their homes?
As we learned from Aymane, the answer is really quite simple: they look cool.
Dogs have long been used to symbolize one’s wealth, social status, or power.
Any dog can be irresponsibly used as an accessory, but some breeds are especially vulnerable to shallow trends.
Huskies, Malamutes, and other Arctic breeds have unfortunately become “fad pets” due to their wolf-like features. In recent months, fans of the hit show Game of Thrones (GoT) began buying–and later abandoning–Huskies en masse for their resemblance to the show’s fictional “direwolves.”
The Moroccan infatuation with wolf-like dogs is on par with that of the West. However, in Morocco, it is much more difficult to adequately care for any pet–let alone one as demanding as a Husky or Malamute.
The average Moroccan lives in an apartment and doesn’t have a private, securely enclosed yard. These are two critical drawbacks, given the dogs’ high energy levels. To compensate, Husky and Malamute owners must spend an ample amount of time exercising these dogs.
Owning these dogs is not only time-consuming–it’s expensive.
For example, Siberian Husky breeders in the U.S. estimate the cost of raising one puppy to be around $1000 a year, or MAD 9582.05.
With an average salary of MAD 3000-4000 per month in Morocco, nearly MAD 10000 a year is simply not a feasible amount to spend on a dog–especially as many dog owners are unemployed youth.
Mahmoud, being an unemployed youth himself, evaded this steep cost by feeding Lisya rice and meat rather than nutrient-dense food specifically created for Huskies. He said he never took her to a vet because he doesn’t know what a vet is, or where to find one.
These methods of cutting corners–intentional or not–are common practices among under-resourced and inexperienced Husky and Malamute owners. Otherwise, many would not be able to afford to keep these prized dogs.
Beldis: belonging to the street
At face value, it may appear that Moroccan society is becoming more accepting of dogs. But Morocco’s strays are still suffering, deemed unworthy of adoption by the majority of supposed “dog lovers.”
Morocco’s streets are home to more than 3 million stray dogs, known as Beldis. Beldis are a type of mixed-breed dog native to North Africa. Some are even mixed with Huskies, Malamutes, and German Shepherds–a result of unsterilized purebreds running freely through the streets.
Morocco’s animal shelters are teeming with Beldis, but these dogs are seldom adopted.
Mohammed, 25, has a friend who sold his Husky after the dog became too “expensive and annoying.” When asked if the friend ever considered having a Beldi, Mohammed laughed.
“You’re never going to see a Moroccan with a Beldi,” he said. “No one likes how they look.”
Although mixed-breed dogs tend to be healthier and better behaved than purebred dogs, some Moroccans turn up their noses at the thought of having a Beldi in the house.
“Beldis belong to the streets,” Mohammed said.
Purebreds, too, may soon belong to the streets.
Although Huskies and Malamutes are still in high demand in Morocco, they are routinely abandoned, lost, or re-sold by their owners as expenses and behavioral issues become too much to handle.
If more Moroccans become aware of the amount of work and money required to care for these Arctic breeds, they may discard their dreams of owning one. This leaves the thousands of purebreds currently circulating the market with a potentially uncertain future.
Morocco’s wolf-dog craze may soon meet its end, and the Huskies and Malamutes being bred to nourish this fad will pay the price.