But in the small historic town of Azemmour, Association ERHAM is working hard to ensure their survival.
Morocco’s lockdown came fast and furious on the 20th March, closing cafes and restaurants, all cultural and sporting events and mosques. The COVID-19 caseload was still relatively low and the government gained worldwide praise for their quick and decisive action.
A commendable response, but what of the street animals who rely solely on food sources from the now-closed cafes and restaurants? Rubbish bins which once offered decent daily pickings of discarded food from households and traders stand empty, surrounded by confused and hungry cats. People are scarce on the streets too, leaving their houses just once a day for essential shopping or medical supplies and I’m sure that the first thing on their minds is not the plight of the feral cats and dogs.
Although ERHAM’s work focuses mainly on sterilisation (Trap Neuter Return) and caring for the tiny vulnerable kittens so often dumped like rubbish on the tip, it was clear that we had to respond immediately to this new crisis before the street cats and dogs went from hungry, to starving to something we couldn’t bear to think about.
To add to the crisis, kitten season is approaching. Last year when Fatima, who takes care of the feral cats at the rubbish tip became overwhelmed with dumped kittens, ERHAM stepped in. www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbZP9AURNg4
We cleaned an area of ground, laid a concrete slab, built a cat shelter and started to supply Fatima with nourishing food for the kittens. At the beginning of March this year we had just finished building a second shelter (and repaired the first which had been vandalised) in preparation for the ‘kitten season’, but when lockdown happened we had to urgently turn our attention to procuring pet food and finding local volunteers to feed the towns’ strays.
We had to move fast, not knowing if heavier restrictions would be imposed to halt the food supply completely. We secured available stock locally from shops which were being forced to close and placed an order with our supplier in Casablanca in the hope that delivery would be allowed.
But this food is disappearing fast. The number of cats and dogs on the street has increased 4 fold, with more appearing everyday – thrown out of their homes by frightened people who don’t care to understand that there is no evidence of pets being infected by, or carrying this human virus.
It’s also birthing season and pregnant animals soon become families of many, with lactating mothers desperately trying to find enough food to produce nourishing milk while at the same time they’re afraid to venture too far away from their offspring. Luckily the animals seem to understand that our feeders (who are now being greeted like old friends) will visit regularly, and they are now more confident that their hunger will be met without having to leave their vulnerable family.
Abandoned pregnant cats are giving birth on the street too – we take them to place of safety, where we can ensure they will have shelter and food. This poor mummy was thrown out with her kittens, and was found terrified, covered in some unknown sticky liquid, but after a good bath and nourishing food in the home of ERHAM member and saviour Rhonda, she has become our super Mum and is adopting other tiny kittens found alone and at risk.
ERHAM volunteers are on the streets daily, covering designated area’s of the town and working tirelessly to reach all of the abandoned hungry animals albeit under the watchful eye of the police and army personnel. My heart aches not to be there with them to physically help, but I am reassured by the daily updates and images and am forever appreciative of their compassionate and kind response. When I thanked one of our new volunteers for helping us she replied “ I love it! It feels really nice when I feed them and they already seem to be thanking me themselves”.
Please help us to continue this humane work of protecting the street animals during the lockdown crisis. By no fault of their own they are more vulnerable than ever.
Author – Anne Heslop, ERHAM’s founder who finds herself locked out of Morocco is organising the street feeding from isolation in London.