The demand for purebred dogs in Morocco has spawned a small-scale but thriving criminal network in Rabat.
Rabat – At 1:41 pm on June 19, a Facebook user shared a desperate plea in an adoption group for cats and dogs in Rabat.
“I need your help to find my three-month-old Husky. Last night my brother got mugged around 11 pm at the corniche of Hay el Fath, Rabat, and they took the dog from him,” he wrote.
Several users commented on the post expressing their sympathy and support for the original poster, but others were critical. One commenter even found the situation amusing.
“I thought if you have a dog with you, you have nothing to fear,” she remarked sarcastically. “You raised it without teaching him how to fight or defend himself? That’s a pity. Stop raising cute and friendly dogs here because they can’t survive in Morocco.”
“She’s three months old and my brother was assaulted with a knife by two people,” the original poster replied. “I don’t see what’s funny in this story?”
“This is the problem with Huskies,” another user chimed in. “If she was a German Shepherd, Malinois, or one of the other violent breeds they wouldn’t take her.”
“I hope you can find her, and I hope after this experience you’ll be more careful,” he continued. “Always raise and teach your dogs to attack.”
This single post offers a glimpse at larger issue within Morocco’s emergent culture of pet ownership: the theft of purebred dogs.
Dog theft: a national sport
As the demand for purebred dogs skyrockets, opportunistic criminals are taking advantage of the new market.
Some people speculate that a mafia of pet thieves is taking root in Rabat, and that this single network of criminals is responsible for pet heists from Harhoura to Kenitra. Although this theory remains unverified, dogs and cats are strategically stolen from hands and homes every day.
Friendly dogs that are unbothered by strangers may seem the most susceptible to theft, but all dog breeds can be victims of this crime. As long as the dog is purebred, a dedicated thief will try to find a way to steal it.
Small dogs such as Shih Tzus, Yorkshire Terriers, and Bichons are popular pets in Morocco, making them a target for thieves–especially since they are easily picked up and transported.
Although small dogs are much easier to steal, Huskies, Malamutes, and German Shepherds earn a higher profit given their unofficial status as Morocco’s most popular breeds.
Rottweilers and Malinois are also targets, despite their reputation as aggressive guard dogs.
Dogs are stolen both violently and covertly. Thieves may stalk and attack lone dog walkers, scan the yards of wealthy neighborhoods for an unaccompanied pet, or entice a friendly dog running loose on the beach or in a community park.
Because men are more likely to be out with their dogs alone, they are more prone to violent assault and theft. Reports of stolen pets often include descriptions of more than one attacker, sometimes armed with knives, and almost always using a motorcycle to make their escape.
One woman reported to a Facebook group that her Labrador Retriever was stolen by three individuals who attacked her male gatekeeper. She firmly believes the thieves intended to resell the dog.
Another man was attacked by four people who stole his German Shepherd puppy. “It’s really disappointing to see people steal dogs to make money,” he wrote on a Facebook thread.
The most commonly stolen dog breeds are the Siberian Husky and Alaskan Malamute.
Several times a week, Husky and Malamute owners throughout Morocco post pictures of their stolen and lost dogs online, hoping they will be found by a good Samaritan.
The fate of most missing dogs, however, remains a mystery.
Some may be sold to dog-fighting rings to be used as bait. “Aggressive” breeds may be purchased by drug dealers or gangs. Others are picked up by backyard breeders. A few may even end up in loving homes, but most of the dogs will be bought and resold at a higher price in a different city. In Morocco, the sale of dogs tends to be a cyclical business.
“The souk of stolen dogs”
You can find almost anything in Morocco’s medinas and souks–including lost or stolen pets.
Hamza, 24, went to the Rabat medina right away when his German Shepherd disappeared from his yard in Hay Riad.
“It’s like when someone steals your phone,” his friend said. “You look for it in Medina.”
Despite Hamza’s quick efforts, he never found his dog. It was likely sold before he could get to it, or taken to a different souk and put up for sale.
In December 2018, the Facebook page of an animal rescue organization called Comme Chiens et Chats – CCM shared a few photos of a small, Spaniel-looking dog.
“We received this picture of this little dog put on sale at the souk, he was probably stolen,” the caption read. “If you recognize him or his human is looking for him, today he was at the souk of stolen dogs.”
Although the name may invoke some fantasy, the “souk of stolen dogs” is not some seedy, dimly lit, smoke-filled maze brimming with squealing puppies and howling dogs.
Rather, this phrase refers to areas in typical souks and medinas where pet thieves can be found attempting to quickly, but discreetly, sell last night’s catch to the highest bidder.
Some thieves put the stolen animals in cages and others keep them on the end of rusty chains. Animals can even be found sitting motionless in cardboard boxes, perhaps sick or sedated.
The “souk of stolen dogs” has many locations throughout Morocco, notably in Casablanca’s Souk Korea and Souk Laayoune, the souk in Sidi Allal El Bahraoui near Rabat, and the large souk in Sale Jadida.
Thieves will also pass along their stolen dogs to children, who will try to casually sell them on street corners near beaches, parks, and public transportation hubs.
In these crowded spaces, the dogs go largely unnoticed by the average passerby–that is, unless you’re looking for them.
Similar “souks” exist throughout the Middle East and North Africa, as purebred cats and dogs are now hot commodities for a select demographic in the Muslim world.
Despite some of these places being well-known, stolen dogs are rarely reunited with their rightful owners.
Pets: a luxury of development?
The criminal underbelly of pet ownership raises an important question: is Morocco, or any developing country, a suitable place to have pets?
Make no mistake: thousands of pets are abused, neglected, abandoned, and stolen every day in the developed countries of North America and Europe, where dog-fighting rings, violent gangs, puppy mills, and sexual perverts are prevalent.
On paper, the abuse of animals in Morocco pales in comparison to that of the U.S.
Yet it appears as though the majority of animals in Morocco, both feral and domestic, are more vulnerable to immense suffering.
Because the culture of pet ownership is so deeply ingrained in Europe and North America, there are legal systems in place to protect domesticated animals and their owners.
Additionally, microchips, GPS devices, police, and animal shelters all serve to reunite lost or stolen pets with their owners. Morocco completely lacks a comparable system.
These formal and informal mechanisms only exist in developed countries, where governments and private organizations can afford to position animal welfare as a priority.
Does this mean that all dog owners in Morocco should train their pets to be aggressive so they won’t be stolen? Perhaps. But this does not address the root of the problem, which is the unregulated pet industry that allows degeneracy to flourish.
So long as Morocco lacks proper animal welfare laws, pets will be subjected to widespread abuse, neglect, and theft. And as long as the market for pets remains unregulated, purebred cats and dogs will continue to be easy money makers for opportunistic criminals.
*Name has been changed for confidentiality.