We are a small, but special, animal sanctuary, situated on the coast of Morocco, 50km north of Essaouira in the grounds of the retreat / hotel Dar Danse, the´Bubble on the Beach´. (www.bubbleonthebeach.com)
Our mission is to relieve and prevent the suffering and ill treatment of stray, abandoned, and working animals in the rural Essaouira region of Morocco, by providing shelter, care, access to medical treatment, facilitating re-homing and promoting public awareness in basic husbandry and animal welfare….not forgetting the all essential ingredients….plenty of cuddles and love!
A very different mission first brought us to Morocco….having been a ballet dancer with The Royal Ballet for fifteen years, Francesca Filpi and her family had the idea of creating a retreat for ballet dancers and their families, to be able to escape the stresses and strains of that competitive world, and be able to progress in an idyllic and nurturing environment, whilst at the same time enjoying a family holiday. The retreat grew, and soon became a haven for all those wanting to ´step off the world´and has become a magical place where people, dancers and non-dancers, return time and time again.
However, during our time here, whilst we´ve been fussing over the right curtains and cushions, it is the animals that have captured our hearts. Over the years, we have rescued a motley crew of four legged friends…our Chappy boy was found in a pitiful state in the main square in Essaouira, and several months and lots of tender loving care later, he is now the happiest, (and probably most spoilt!) little dog in Morocco! Polly and Patty were abandoned by the sea wall when they were just days old, and two little orphaned kittens found their way to us in an old flour sack, courtesy of some of the children from the village. Danny l’ane (the donkey) wandered into the garden one day and decided that Dar Danse would do very nicely for his retirement…he had obviously been terribly ill-treated during his working life, and had then been abandoned by his owners when he became too old and lame to be of any more use to them. He was one of the lucky ones. Countless donkeys are abandoned in this way, left to die a slow and lonely death, as their owners can no longer afford to feed an animal that cannot work for them. Danny l’ane was the deciding factor – we could no longer be here and let these things happen around us.
So began the quest to set up an animal sanctuary. We seemed to go round in circles until, one fine day, out of the blue, appeared Matthew the Vet (who we have since re-named Saint Matthew!) Having recently qualified, he originally came with the intention of volunteering for a few weeks, before going back to the UK, but he took our mission to heart, threw caution to the wind, and promised to return for several months to get the project underway. Now, with his guidance, knowledge, reassurance, perseverance, and a good dollop of sense of humour on all sides, the Four-Legged Orphan Sanctuary has finally become a reality.
We have only just started, and we can only take one step at a time....at the moment we open our arms and hearts to any animals that find their way to our ´bubble´...we have been so encouraged and heartened by the response we have had from the guests staying at the hotel, and already two of our rescue dogs have been given forever homes in the UK. We couldn´t be more delighted as, whilst it is hard to say goodbye to the little puppies that have become so much a part of our family, this means that we are able to give opportunities to other dogs in need. There are so many......
However this is just a drop in the ocean in terms of the work there is to be done. Animals are an essential part of everyday life in rural areas such as this, and the local people rely on them for their livelihood – it will be a long time before the donkeys, camels and horses are replaced by cars or tractors here! We have been apalled by the long up-held beliefs and training methods of (in theory) well meaning local people. It is important to realise that Moroccan people, in the vast majority, are not intentionally cruel or neglectful, and in fact it is our experience that they are generally friendly and well-meaning. However unfortunately the opinions and practises towards these animals come from a very ‘traditional’ way of doing things.....and as we all know, old habits die hard... which is where we come in! The smallest of changes in mindset could put an end to the unecessary suffering of thousands of animals. In time we hope to be able to set up a sterilsation programme in our nearby village, along with workshops in basic animal husbandry and welfare for the local children. One step at a time, we can change, if not the world, at least the area around our bubble....