Charity literally begins at home for Karl Scarr, a British zoologist so upset by the desperate plight of homeless dogs in Morocco that he built them a giant kennel – and moved in there too!
He now shares a 33ft by 13ft doghouse with 150 strays in Tangier, and is all set to claim a new world record for living with the most number of dogs.
This has led him to becoming one of the world’s most-informed experts on canine behaviour, since opening Le Sanctuaire de la Faune de Tanger (“The Wild Animal Sanctuary of Tangier” or SFT) four years ago.
The SFT’s ground-breaking protocols for vaccination, sterilisation and adoption programmes, as well as educational schemes in local schools and colleges, are now being embraced by numerous animal welfare associations and community groups across Morocco, including Friends of SPANA (FOS) and Chien et Chat.
The sanctuary is also at the forefront of a campaign to change welfare legislation in Morocco, in a move to better protect vulnerable animals. Karl has just launched a pioneering ‘Animal Spotter’ app for the public to alert the charity to animals in need.
Thinking outside his sanctuary, Karl also aims to help safeguard and improve welfare standards of all animals in a country where abuse and cruelty is endemic.
Karl says, “I literally have no space or time to myself, and life in a kennel isn’t easy. Being the leader of a pack this size requires complete concentration and vigilance at all times, watching out for deadly scorpions and snakes, or breaking up fights before they become serious.”
He adds, “But it’s a sacrifice that I willingly make to protect these wonderful animals, most of which have either been abused, starved, abandoned, or simply left for dead.”
Karl added, “The SFT’s protocols on vaccination, sterilsation and adoption are now being taken up by organisations within Tangier as well as major cities throughout Morocco such as Rabat, Casablance, Meknes and Marrakech.
“The Sanctuary has become the focal point for a major campaign for change to animal protection laws in the country, which is hugely exciting, and our new Animal Spotter app will also be a huge tool in the battle for better animal welfare.
“But it is donations that make it all possible. Without funds, the Sanctuary will succumb to financial pressures sooner rather than later.”
Morocco generally has an appalling attitude to even basic animal welfare. It’s something Karl first witnessed while on a charity rally to the country in 2007.
“I was shocked when I saw the way some animals are treated in Tangier,” he said.
“Morocco is definitely not a nation of animal lovers. Every day we meet victims of horrific physical and mental abuse, with animals having been stabbed, burned, blinded, mutilated with their ear or tails cut off, or had their legs broken.
“This nearly always happens to puppies and kittens when they become inquisitive and venture from their mother only to be snatched and tortured or killed.
“Many others are badly ravaged with mange, fleas, ticks, worms, severe malnutrition and even diseases such as canine distemper or rabies.
“I set up the sanctuary to take in abandoned pets, strays and nurse sick animals back to health, as well as reach out to the local community to help change perceptions about animal welfare and to get their working animals back to full health.
“The SFT also does what it can to keep down the stray dog population in Tangier by sterilising all the animals that are brought to us.”
Karl is currently waiting for construction on his own house on the seven-acre plot to be completed, which he expects to be ready by the summer. But until then, he is happy to sleep alongside the dogs. He shares his bed with Khan, a bullmastiff and Karl’s ‘second-in-command’, and a few more of the ‘most senior’ dogs in the pack.
Since the SFT was established in 2012, Karl has nursed over 1,000 animals. His daily routine begins at 4am, with breakfast distribution, including bottle-feeding the baby animals, and cleaning out 12 animal houses, including the paddock, dog house and donkey stables. Then it’s medicine time for dogs that are sick and a run to the vets with any that require treatment. Karl then drives around Tangier, checking on the dogs that he has rehomed or that live wild in the community.
But despite the constant demands on his time, Karl has no intention of taking a step back.
“We want to give the animals the love and affection they deserve, in surroundings they enjoy. Many of these dogs have been left in the streets to suffer and are badly in need of affection,” says Karl.
“There’s no better feeling than the love and affection that the dogs smother me with every day. They truly seem grateful that they have this second chance of life.”
From his experience, Karl has now written three acclaimed books on animal behaviour, the proceeds of which go towards the upkeep of the sanctuary.
He is planning to contact Guinness World Records in coming weeks, and believes he stands “every possible chance” in claiming a record for living with the most number of dogs.
Karl added: “Living with so many dogs is definitely a challenge, but it’s one that I’m happy to take on.
“I’ve learned so much about canine behaviour and I’m pleased to share my observations with other dog lovers.”
Help out SFT here.