Rabat – While doing research for my recent piece about sterilization, I came across a VICE article about the cats of Marrakech. It was written in 2014 by someone named Tory Noll.
“The best thing about Marrakech is its out-of-control cat population,” reads the first line of the article. The author mentions that she has “a soft spot for deformed and mangy cats,” so she’s particularly fond of those in Marrakech.
The article is essentially a photo essay of the street cats in Marrakech. Each photo includes a caption and the names given to the cats by the author.
The first photo features a cat with a visible eye infection. The author describes the cat’s “wonky eye” as “cute.”
Another photo features three kittens.
“One of them was blind, which was super sad, but he seemed happy otherwise,” the caption reads. “They slept in a cardboard box. It could be worse!”
The author also shares two photos of a pregnant cat. The first shows how large she is, while the second is a close-up shot of her face.
“Babe alert! She’ll have no problem finding another dude to mate with,” the author writes.
Is this person delusional? I wondered, suddenly enraged. Do people really think like this?
It took me a few moments to realize my own hypocrisy and get down off my high horse.
Yes, people really do think like this—I used to think like this. Even as a supposedly well-informed American student in Rabat, I was blissfully unconcerned with the nagging issue of animal welfare in the country. I actually loved seeing cats every day on my walk to school.
My wake-up call didn’t come until April of 2018, more than two months into my semester abroad.
One of my school buildings was in Rabat’s old medina, and living nearby was a pregnant cat. When she gave birth, people from the neighborhood set up a cardboard box to house her and her newborn kittens. Residents also left cheese, milk, and meat scraps for the nursing mother. I thought this was cute.
The box had been in the same spot for nearly four weeks. One day I approached my class building only to find that a neighbor had poured a bucket of dirty water out of her window directly onto the box, soaking the kittens and spooking the mother into abandoning them.
The kittens’ pitiful cries reverberated throughout the small alleyway for days. They were too young to be without their mother, who was lurking nearby but now refused to go near them.
I will never forget how helpless I felt as I left my lecture one afternoon because their cries were insufferable. I found the wooden crate they had been trapped under and held their shivering, dirty bodies to my chest. Two of them were barely moving.
I didn’t know of a nearby vet, but even if I did, I had no way of transporting them. I didn’t know of a pet store where I could buy kitten formula, but even if I did, I couldn’t foster them at my host family’s apartment.
I asked the employees at my school if they could call anyone for help. As far as I know, no calls were made. I reached out to a local animal association but received no response. I had no other resources to consult.
The neighborhood’s residents, who had once cared so much for the mother cat and her kittens, could now only look on with sympathy.
The kittens starved to death in a matter of days. They cried for help until they no longer had the strength. They spent their last moments cold, wet, and afraid. This is not cute.
This tragedy is not an anomaly in Morocco. In fact, I’ve heard of much worse.
A boy walking in Temara encouraged his dog to attack a kitten on the sidewalk. The dog gouged her face and punctured her stomach, and she died of her injuries. This is not cute.
A man wheeling a cart of fruit near Rabat ran over a box of three-week-old kittens. One was crushed to death and the others were mangled. The man continued on his way. This is not cute.
In Casablanca, a group of children picked up a stray cat by his tail and dangled him over a balcony. They dropped him to see if he would survive the fall. This is not cute.
Thousands of unwanted kittens dumped on a garbage tip in Azemmour, and elsewhere throughout Morocco contract viruses which complicate and cause their eyes to crust over and pop out of their heads. This is not cute.
In Marrakech, I saw the bloodied remains of a dead cat lying atop a steaming pile of garbage. This is not cute.
Being kicked and threatened with hot oil by restaurant owners is not cute. Living in the filth under a butcher’s meat display is not cute. Getting stuck in trash bins during a desperate search for food is not cute. Tails being ripped from bodies by passing cars and motorcycles is not cute.
The hunger, thirst, fear, and pain faced by Morocco’s street cats are not cute. Fighting for food and territory, being tormented by humans, and getting trapped in an endless cycle of pregnancy is not cute. Morocco’s street cats are suffering, and it is not cute.
I used to play devil’s advocate. Well, they’re not all suffering, I would tell myself. A lot of people take care of them. Most Moroccans I know love cats. Look at the cats in the medina, they’re so happy and well-fed!
Are some stray cats loved and cared for? Sure, you could say that.
But you know what? I don’t care anymore.
The street cats of Morocco have lost their charm to me. I no longer see them as cute. I only see their infected eyes and scarred faces; their injured legs and mangled tails; and their scrawny, dirty, starving bodies. This is not cute. It’s heartbreaking.
Animal welfare isn’t a priority in Morocco, and it probably won’t be for a long time. I can’t blame anyone for this. The government has bigger fish to fry, and most ordinary people barely earn enough to provide for their own families, let alone the stray cats of their neighborhood.
All I can ask is for my fellow foreigners to stop glorifying the disastrous animal overpopulation problem that is plaguing this country.
Morocco’s street cats are not cute. They are suffering. And they will continue to suffer so long as we write off their misery as endearing.
If you would like to learn more about animal welfare in Morocco, check out some of these organizations: