The American Fondouk, Morocco’s first charitable veterinary hospital

The American Fondouk is a hospital for sick animals in Fez. It was built in 1929 by American travelers who visited the Kingdom and noticed how animals were treated at the time.

The American Fondouk in Fez./Ph. DR
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In 1929, the city of Fez saw the establishment of Morocco’s first animal shelter and hospital. The facility was flying the American flag, making reference to the group of tourists and animal rights activists who had the idea of raising money to founded the charitable veterinary hospital.

«American Fondouk» or «Fondouk Americain» in French was the result of a North African trip an American young woman called Bessie Dean Cooper made in 1926. «Like many other tourists, Cooper and her friends ventured into North Africa», wrote Janet M. Davis in her book «The Gospel of Kindness. Animal Welfare and the Making of Modern America», (2016, Oxford University Press).

The trip to Morocco

The trip to Morocco changed Cooper’s life and in letters home, she voiced her concerns regarding the way animals were treated in the Kingdom’s cities.

«No animal there can be called happy, and dogs especially are treated with hideous cruelty, the draft animals – horses, mules, camels and above all, donkeys – are perhaps the most wretched … I have seen many a sore full of maggots», she wrote in one of her letters.

One year later, Cooper and her friends moved to action. The group joined the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) in Boston, with the intention of building a shelter in Fez. There came the generous intervention of American traveler Amy Ben Bishop who donated $8,000,00 to build the hospital.

The Fondouk (hotel in Arabic) was then constructed in Fez to host needy families’ animals for free and to provide veterinary care for horses, mules and donkeys. «Bessie Dean Cooper became the first secretary treasurer, and Reverend Francis Rowley, president of the MSPCA, served as the Fondouk’s first president when it became fully operational in 1929», recalled Janet M. Davis.

The American Fondouk was the first of its kind in the Kingdom, and Fez in particular, where inhabitants relied heavily on their animals to transport goodies, and depended on their labor. In fact, they have refused the idea of having an American refuge for their animals.

A refuge for the animals

Janet M. Davis refers to that in her book, quoting MSPCA officials who reported that «natives saw the hospital as a threat to their livelihood-while an animal was a patient there, it could not be out on the streets working».

This was confirmed when the pasha of Fez and the French colonial government «mandated new anticruelty laws», ordering the city police to transfer injured animals to the American Fondouk for treatment.

The Fondouk, however, was not just a facility for the injured and ill-treated animals, but also an establishment that honored the Moroccan American relations. In the fifties, and after Morocco broke free from France, the USA’s first Ambassador to the Kingdom Cavendish W. Cannon hailed America’s benevolence in North Africa, citing the American Fondouk.

«We are all proud to see our flag flying at that fine outpost, and we rejoice in the excellent reputation of the institution and the affection in which it is held by the people of the region», declared Cannon in one of his speeches.

He had even stated that the Fondouk was a «very important contribution to the work of the American government and the people in promoting the interests of the United States in Morocco».

Indeed, the charitable veterinary survived 89 years, dedicated to the mission its founders set the first day. According to the Fondouk’s website, the facility in Fez is now «staffed with two resident veterinarians, a blacksmith, and 8 other employees».

«An onsite laboratory helps with diagnosis and a small surgical facility handles routine procedures», wrote the Fondouk.

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