By Fred A. Reed
Packs of homeless dogs that roam the streets bode ill for a city. Or a country, for that matter.
Two weeks ago a French tourist was savaged by a large number of strays in a small southern Moroccan seaside town.
The victim had gone for a stroll along the beach when, for reasons unknown, dogs set upon her, tore her flesh and quickly killed her. Would they have devoured her then and there but but for the intervention--too late--of some merciful passerby?
Such a meal does not often come the way of these spectral creatures: the dogs one sees lurking on the streets and squares of Moroccan cities, towns and villages. They lounge, half-asleep, in the shade or rummage through the refuse from overflowing garbage bins in the hope of scavenging some scraps; they copulate inscouciantly in broad daylight.
Random curs can often be observed making their way, just after dawn, along our town's main thoroughfares, occupying the sidewalks and the pavement, trotting with that peculiar semi-sidelong gait that resembles an automobile that's sustained severe frame damage. Their tongues loll out and they yip and chatter to keep one another in line.
Citizens out walking at that hour give them a wide berth, or carry a Joycean ashplant.
That they killed someone did not come entirely as a surprise. Dogs kill an estimated thirty people annually--by mauling or by rabies--in our country of residence. But it took an unfortunate French tourist's death (and vigorous remonstrances from the ex-protectoral bonzes in Paris) to capture the attention of the somnolent Moroccan authorities.
Not far from our building a group of six or seven can often be seen lounging in the shade of one of the impromptu pavillions set up on the sidewalk for some event or other and then left in place to gather dust. They could easily be rounded up and taken to a veterinary facility for instant sterilization. But they remain unbothered, and we often hear them barking in the wee hours.
Speaking of which, when I visited Cyrus several decades ago to report on tensions between the island's Greek-speaking majority and the breakaway 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' recognized only by Turkey, I remember hearing distant gunshots at night.
Were there troubles along the Green Line that separated the two communities, I aksed by hosts.
"Oh no," they laughed. "It's just the dog suppression squad." That was my introduction to the then-official policy of shooting on sight any dog not on a leash. During my brief sojourn on the island I saw no stray dogs.
Man's best friend has long enjoyed a privileged relationship with the master-species: us. Dogs have hunted, protected flocks, stood guard over fields and gardens, hunted down fleet-footed game with their superior speed, diligence and fierceness.
But dogs need discipline and a clear understanding of who permits or orders them to hunt, to protect, to pick up a stick and return it, to chase the letter carrier to the edge of the property (as my own youthful experience as a postman amply testified). Remove discipline and this once-faithful and devoted best friend will seek out the company of its fellows.
When this happens, when dogs begin to run through the streets in packs, a city can be said to be going to the dogs.
Going, going; gone.
Morocco's former dog-suppression-by-bullet policy ended well before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Was it pressure from groups concerned more with animal welfare than, for instance, public hygiene?
Whatever the reason their number has multiplied. They coalesce into packs, frighten children, intimidate pedestrians and, as in the case of the unfortunate French tourist, kill their prey.
The authorities express dismay. "We are examining solutions," they say. Meanwhile veterinarians admit they cannot stem the tide, and pet shops are doing a thriving business thanks to increased prosperity.
Part of the ambient ambiguity reflects a similar ambiguity in Muslim attitudes toward man's best friend. The religious scholars who, though they have no official status in Islam--which has no clergy--make and shape opinion on matters of faith and practice, argue that dogs are fine. As long as they stick to certain basic tasks such as guarding flocks or property. But an ambundant literature of prophetic tradition sees them as unfitt for human proximity.
This despite an entire chapter of the Qur'an that closely resembles the legend of the seven sleepers of Ephesus. It describes the three-century sojourn of several--four, five or six--youths in a cave, always accompanied by their dog.
Normally that would be enough to grant the dog as lofty a status as the bee, the spider or the ant, all evoked in the Qur'an. But the rigid hand of scholarly opinion has excluded the dog from their select company.
So when the Islamic revolutionaries who followed the late Imam Khomeini sought to undermine then-Shah Mohamed Reza Pahlavi they published posters of the monarch walking his pure-bred dog.
The strategy worked, and in 1979 the Tehran papers headlined: "Shah gone; Imam come."
The pariah dogs that can be seen today throughout Mococco form a leitmotif in Malcolm Lowry's masterwork Under the Volcano (luminously described by Earl Fowler on this blog) where they haunt the roads of Mexico, hideous and starving, cowering and slouching. From their presence can flow nothing but evil as evil indeed comes to rest upon the books's protagonist, the Consul.
No half-sober consul would or could be found today in the places where such creatures congregate. More likely he would be keeping the company of the moneyed few who like to walk their canine companions at the end of a sturdy leash, and tipple discretely. Such dogs would be sleek and well-groomed.
Not your typical Moroccan street mutt.
THIS JUST IN: In apparent response to the muder-by-dog of the French tourist, the authorities have announced a campaign designed to innoculate strays against rabies and to sterilize all of them. The new measures are to be applied in the country's five largest cities, including our sleepy seaside municipality. Given the authorities' legendary efficiency and diligence, we're feeling safer already.