I met Chris as I was walking back to my settlement on the beach of Taghazout with my one-night dog I named Picasso, who turned out to be Django, one of the many village dogs everybody knows and loves.
[Although they are free and don’t have a specific owners, I would not call them strays, but community dogs, most of them vaccinated and neutered, as part of a long-term research program in cooperation with multiple European countries, including France and Italy. A few years back, they started implanting and studying the impact of the neuter and release method to control dog populations in a safe, ethical and durable way. The project was going great and Taghazout and the neighbour villages were illustrated as revolutionary examples of beautiful cohabitation between human and dog communities. That was then.
We ended up spending the evening with Chris and his two dogs, Jasmine and Samy, a rescued he saved on the way, and he explained he was volunteering at a small local animal shelter, MAA (Morocco Animal Aid), ran by one woman who created the organization a few years ago after witnessing the urgent need for animal care in the area.
A few weeks later, Chris’s newsfeed filled with horror as he did his best to open the world’s eyes to what was happening in Taghazout, Tamraght and Agadir. Preceding the arrival of a FIFA delegation for the 2026 world cup, orders had been given to decimate the dog population in the area. In less politically correct terms, untrained ‘’troups’’ were sent to shoot the dogs in the streets, in the middle of the villages, after sunset. The first night, beyond the countless bodies, blood in the streets and fear and incomprehension from the locals as they heard gun shots in front of their houses, they also managed to shoot and kill owned dogs, dogs on a leash, including Azucni, barely missing his owner standing next to him. (Read more here).
When we talk about animal rights, an objection often comes up: ”What about people?”. The thing is, one doesn’t have to go against the other, on the contrary, they are often intertwined, as this example shows. Not only were people physically harmed, when trying to protect the dogs or accidently (as the young boy who was shot in the leg), but the events also caused great emotional shocks, as people witnessed their beloved companions being shot without notice or warning, a reminder that their streets can be invaded by armed forces at any time, without their consent.
I had just posted pictures from our week of relaxed camping on the beach, including pictures of Django, when Chris commented about the government’s decision. I took the time to re-read it. ‘’That means Picasso!’’, he wrote. I know it’s silly, but we are the way we are, having any sort of connection to an event will greatly enhance our ability to relate to it = I ‘’know’’ this dog, I feel compelled. I was shocked, disgusted. I kept reading on the subject, asking Chris if there was any way we could help.
A few days later, as we were making our way North to renew our visa in Ceuta, I received a message from Chris.
”Hey guys! I hope your travels are going well.
I have a proposition for you. Everything has really hit the fan here as you’ve probably observed thru my posts. All the volunteers are leaving as previously scheduled except for myself – but our work load and dog count is doubled and everything is in shambles as far as the structure of the organization and our efforts, etc.
Was just wondering if you two were bored or stagnant or othetwisr interested in helping if you would consider coming back for a few days until your visa runs up? wed be happy to host you in your own room and responsibilties encompass the care of almost 30 dogs. It might be a little bit hectic, but certainly not to much trouble for 3 ppl to handle. Lmk,
Chris (and Jasmine).”
Vincent had the same reaction: ‘’Of course we’ll go!’’. We arrived 3 days later, hitchhiking from Marrakesh to Tétouan, back and forth from Tétouan to Ceuta and from Tétouan to Tamraght in a day. ’’It’s an overcrowded mess’’, he warned us. We arrived to 30 adult dogs, 10 puppies, 5 cats and… 3 kittens. I fell in love with their barely opened eyes from the first night I bottle-fed them and went on to being their substitute mom, with the main task of waking up to feed them every 3 hours.
(Sorry for the low quality pictures taken by my dinosaur cellphone)
With a bit of extra love and freedom to start exploring the room, they quickly went from immobile furry beans to full kittens, leaving them 10 days later, eating soft food by themselves and (oh yes!) using the litter.
The refuge was quite crowded as everyone was doing their part to hide the dogs inside, protecting them from the mass shootings happening outside. As 3 volunteers, we took turns walking all the adult dogs, allowing them time to roam freely around the hills before returning to the house. The daily tasks included feeding all the dogs (more complicated than it seems, making sure everyone had a bowl and was able to eat it required some planning), giving medicine and treatments, picking up a million poops as the house didn’t have a yard and constantly dealing with a ton of dogs in a small place. Let’s say it was not the most quiet house on the block.
On top of this, Lucy, the woman behind all of it, was constantly buried under endless appointments, vet check-ups, runs to go buy necessities, hunts for free bones and meat leftovers from the butchers and responding to incessant demands and inquiries about animals that were in need of a shelter or medical help. She also took care of arranging the animals’ departure from Morocco, many of them being adopted abroad, from the paperwork and necessary test, to finding people to bring the dogs to various countries (that’s me- and you maybe!).
I stayed for 10 days and although I loved all of the animals, and missed them as soon as I left, I sincerely do not understand how she manages to do this, all the time, every day, for years. Seeing someone so dedicated to helping was quite inspiring, and I would encourage anyone to give a hand, whether it’s taking the dogs for a walk, spending an hour at MAA petting your new furry friends, or sharing a few extra dollars per week, rest assured it will be put to good use!
When I first arrived at MAA, I was quite unsure of what I would do next. North or South? In the end, I decided it would be wiser to go back to Europe to make a few euros, before going any further in Africa (not that I couldn’t have made it on a very restricted budget, but, considering my privileges, I feel it is only fair for me to share a little more). I mentioned I was looking for an au pair job in Spain or Italy and Lucy lit up: ‘’You’re going to Italy? We have a dog that needs to go to Italy!’’. She explained that sending a dog by himself, as cargo, was much more expensive (or near impossible) so they are constantly looking for volunteers to take dogs with them on the plane, basically just checking them in at the airport. I explained I don’t normally take planes, but maybe I could make an exception, what was the dog’s situation?
‘’It’s the dog that got shot in the face’’, she said.
‘’Oh.’’ I breathed.
Azucni was right in front of his owner’s shop, his owner a few meters behind as they were about to go on a late evening walk, when one of the drive-by shooters started releasing a wave of bullets in their direction. Azucni received many bullets in his snout, filling the roof of his mouth, thankfully missing his head, but resulting in a total loss of his teeth on one side. His other owner was back in Italy, and the initial plan was to bring him a few months later. Now, as the streets, and even their own yard, was not safe anymore, they were urged to get Azucni out of Morocco as fast as possible.
I ended up finding a job in Pisa, where I would work as an au pair for 2 months. They were flexible on my arrival, but they also wanted me to come within the next weeks. Lucy explained the situation to Veronica, the owner in Italy, she was extatic. The deal was pretty good for me too. Although I wasn’t happy about the plane, I got a free ticket to Italy, and got to do a good action on the way. Sometimes real lives matter more than calculations on how much CO2 I was accounting for.
Although it is debatable, and probably not the most rationally ethical decision, it felt like the right choice to me. I also got to witness and be part of and Azucni’s reunion, which was a beautiful thing.
I’ve never been a fan of pseudo animal psychology and the likes, but I swear you could see he was happier when we got to Italy.
Next time you fly, consider looking at fly volunteer opportunities with the local animal shelters, it’s even better if people who are already taking the planes do it! If you’re flying (or driving, or anything actually) from Morocco, don’t hesitate to contact Lucy at MAA, especially if you are going to Canada!