By Molly Keisman
RABAT, Morocco— Ahmed Tazi can’t take one step without a horde of adoring dogs following his every move. He couldn’t be happier.
Tazi, 33, has been president of the Association de Défense des Animaux et de la Nature (ADAN) for three years. In a country with an abundance of strays but an absence of mainstream concern for animal welfare, the importance of Tazi’s work cannot be overstated. In Rabat, ADAN stands alone—the city’s sole animal rescue.
Within Rabat, ADAN has two locations—one for cats and one for dogs. Its dog location is located along Moustapha Assayeh Avenue, against the backdrop of the ocean and beside a gas station. Its outer appearance is an imposing and industrial metallic door flanked by two massive white walls. This nondescript fortress is so indistinct in its look that it barely registers with the passerby. However, within these walls is a sanctuary in which hundreds of dogs run free.
Tazi grew up surrounded by animals. “We had a big cat. His name was Asad, which means lion in Arabic” he says. “He was very very big and he’d go out and beat up other cats. All of the cats of the neighborhood knew him. It was special to me when I was a child.” Recalling the memory, he giggles—a glimpse of the boy he once was and, in many ways, still is. In addition to family pets, his father would bring home cats and care for them before releasing them. His sister, who always begged their father to keep the cats, would go on to create ADAN in 2005.
Born into a respected Moroccan family (his grandfather was Abdelhadi Tazi—a prominent scholar, writer, historian, and Moroccan ambassador), Tazi’s upbringing was relatively privileged. His family’s money allowed Tazi and his sister to start ADAN—a venture that their grandfather encouraged. He has since passed away, but ADAN lives on and Tazi’s parents are just as supportive. However, the costs of running the foundation are overwhelming, and Tazi lives with his parents to save money. He says that his brother and sister even sold some of their own land to pay for vet bills.
Life isn’t exactly easy for Tazi, but you would never guess it by looking at him. He has a boyish face with a close-cut light brown beard. His light blue eyes are framed by navy blue rectangular glasses. He regularly breaks out into wide grins and has a habit of gazing upward and smiling to himself as he contemplates questions. He introduces each dog with its personalized backstory. He gazes at the animals with a pride so fierce and so personal its paternal. He points to a black shepherd mix, and explains that somebody cut off her ears and tail. The dog stays close to his side, her stump wagging. A chocolate lab lingers nearby, his legs wobbling and awkwardly splayed. Tazi explains that the dog (Caramel) had a disease that permanently damaged his nervous system.
“This will stay with him forever” he comments as he pats Caramel’s side. A little, curly-haired white dog catches his attention. “She will be adopted in the USA in April” he says. “Zweena” he coos in a voice where you can hear his smile. “You will be American!” A few seconds later, he adds softly, “you will not forget us.”
Most of the dogs have been picked up off the street or saved from the pound. Some have no noticeable deformities, while others are missing limbs, or covered in scars. While all the dogs are special to Tazi, some stick with him more than others. Without hesitation, he says the dog he will always remember is Miracle. He beams as he thinks about her. “She’s saved by a miracle so we call her Miracle.” He explains that she was found with a rod in her neck and a veterinarian stayed with them until 1:00am performing surgery on her. “She is still here because she was very traumatized. She’s very friendly with us but she still has some terror in her eyes” he says. “Now we can touch her. Not everyone can touch her. It’s difficult to adopt her.” He pauses thoughtfully, adding that he may keep her.
Morocco’s lack of animal rescues is just one symptom of the country’s failure to protect its animals. Morocco has an “F” under the Animal Protection Index produced by the World Animal Protection organization. Its animal welfare laws tend to be narrowly applied to certain classes of animals such as livestock, guard dogs, and working animals. Any person who poisons a guard dog may face prison time and a fine of 200-500 dirhams ($20-50), however such penalties aren’t extended to the country’s stray animals. Ultimately, one of the root problems is that Morocco doesn’t recognize animal sentience.
For comparison, the United States formally recognizes some aspects of animal sentience in its legislation. The preamble to the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958 mentions the use of humane methods of slaughter to prevent “needless suffering.” The Animal Welfare Act requires the minimization of pain and distress for animals during experimental procedures. This act also demands that research facilities provide environments that promote the “psychological well-being of the animals.” Morocco has failed to take these steps.
Tazi dreams of establishing institutional safeguards to take care of Morocco’s stray animals. He dreams of forbidding their killing and implementing laws to penalize their abuse. He refers to the current laws in place as “very shy.” He struggles for the words to express his next thought. “For now, we protect an animal not because he is an animal, but because he is owned by a human. We don’t consider that he is a soul—a sensitive creature.”
Tazi rejects the idea that he is different from other Moroccans in his love for animals.
“I don’t think differently but I care more” he says. “It’s a question of awareness. It is our duty to raise awareness. To teach children, parents, in the schools for this cause. Real education is to take care of animals.”
Unfortunately, Tazi’s opinions aren’t widely held. Traditional attitudes regarding dogs as “unclean” still prevail in Morocco.
“Moroccans have a bad culture about dogs,” he says. “They say if they touch a dog, their ablution is interrupted. But it’s not true.” Tazi is a devout Muslim and believes that, in part, his love of animals comes from Islam. Muslims who don’t like animals, he claims, “misunderstand the real recommendation of Islam and our prophet.”
ADAN receives donations from the Brigitte Bardot foundation in France, yet Tazi still pays out of pocket quite often. The costs of life-saving surgeries, spaying, neutering, micro-chipping, food, medicine, and general upkeep are significant. For a stable income, Tazi serves as the vice president of the Abdelhadi Tazi foundation, established to promote his grandfather’s legacy. The foundation’s goals Tazi notes, are to preserve his grandfather’s literature and studies, and uphold his values of peace, tolerance and education.
Between his work at both ADAN and the Abdelhadi Tazi Foundation, Tazi is a busy man. He spends his mornings at the foundation and his afternoons at the rescue.
“But I come here before going to my job and I come back after” he says before adding, “and sometimes during the day, I come back here to see if all the animals are good.” Aside from his work, Tazi somehow finds time to attend university as well. He is in the final year of his PhD, studying the history of literature. How does he do it all? “It is hard,” he admits. But, he says as he gestures to a group of people, “when we find people like these volunteers, it encourages us and it is less difficult.” Ultimately, Tazi’s wants are simple. “We want to see our place painted with doors that close, and we want to see the animals well.” His ideal situation is one in which individuals donate their time and specialties to make ADAN a better place.
Running two organizations and earning a PhD leaves him little time to spare. “My hobby for fun? I think sleeping” he says, laughing. “And I love traveling” he adds. “But not traveling just for fun—traveling for something. Traveling to a conference for animals, traveling to meet some people who love animals. All my life is around animals.” It’s not an exaggeration—aside from running ADAN and traveling the globe for animal-related conferences, Tazi is also a dedicated pet owner himself. At home, he has four cats and two dogs. His favorite thing about his cats is when they purr, and when they sleep with him. He says fondly: “I’ll have one between my legs, one on my chest, one on my head. It is fun.”
Growing up, he wanted to be a veterinarian, but he didn’t have the grades to enter veterinary school, he says. Breaking into a smile he declares: “But now, I’m a friend of all the vets in the world.”