Feb. 27, 2020 at 7:00 a.m. EST
Brielle Rozmus was walking her dog Eutaw in Patterson Park in Baltimore when a fellow dog owner recognized something about the animal.
“Oh,” the man said, “is that dog from Kuwait?”
The question wasn’t as random as it might seem, and it wasn’t the first time Rozmus had heard it. Eutaw, a lean, longhair 1-year-old with floppy ears and a gentle disposition, is a native of Kuwait City. And in recent years, so many of her Arabian canine kin have made this city home that they’ve become recognizable.
Eutaw was brought to the United States by Wings of Love Kuwait, a rescue organization started five years ago, after Patricia Riska, a Baltimore flight attendant who had a regular layover in Kuwait City, noticed many dogs in the streets who looked hungry, lost, and scared. Passersby ignored them or kicked them. No one seemed to be helping them.
A chance conversation on a plane led Riska to some women in Kuwait using their own resources to help stray dogs and cats.
“I had a flight attendant friend who rescues cats, and her and I were in a jump seat and got to talking,” Riska said. “I said, ‘Oh, I know, I see so many dogs,’ and she said, ‘If you’re not doing anything on your layover, come with me and meet some of these women.’”
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The number of pet dogs in Kuwait has skyrocketed in the last decade, and pet cafes and pet shops have proliferated, according to a recent article in the Kuwait Times, an English-language daily there. The article also noted a “sudden explosion of dogs on the streets … visible in the mornings and late evenings scavenging for food.”
That is because, in a culture with a lot of money, puppies are frequently purchased from breeders in Europe and then owners don’t keep them for more than a year, said Jennifer Yoon, co-founder and vice president of Wings of Love.
“It’s not uncommon to see these exotic designer dogs that are just tossed out,” she said. “There’s a whole culture of just dogs as being dispensable, a thing.”
But when owners in Kuwait no longer want their dogs, there are not many options, Riska said. “The kennels are horrible,” she said, adding that often, owners “literally take these dogs out in the middle of the street, tie them to a tree and walk away.”
Many succumb to starvation, injuries from people or other dogs, or summer heat that can reach up to 129 degrees Fahrenheit. Eutaw was found all skin and bones, begging at a market.
After meeting the women in Kuwait, Riska started taking one or two dogs at a time back with her on the 14-hour journey home. The first dog she brought was adopted by a friend in Houston, and Riska brought back another two to be adopted, siblings who had been dumped in the desert. In 2015, she and Yoon founded the rescue organization, which became a nonprofit a year later. Yoon also adopted two Kuwaiti dogs.
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Since then, the group has brought more than 535 dogs from Kuwait, working with a woman there who rescues them from the streets and shelters them on her farm. Most have found homes in the Baltimore area, along with around 30 in the District and over 30 in Virginia.
Many are found in rough shape. One, later named Chance, was found with over 100 BB pellets in his body, and missing a paw. “He was probably chained to something and we think he chewed off his paw to get away,” Yoon said.
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In Baltimore, where rescue dogs are often pit bulls, many people are eager to adopt the purebred Yorkies and Malteses, affable Labrador or German shepherd mixes, and the rangy dogs who, like Eutaw, have recognizable features common to Salukis or “desert dogs” from the Fertile Crescent.
“They have that long, lean look, and the curly tail,” Yoon said. “They’re tough dogs, and they tend to be very bright … They’re viewed as being just stray dogs in Kuwait, and here they look exotic.”
In fact, Maryland now pops up as the third location (after Dubai and Kuwait) with the largest population of “Arabian village dogs” based on DNA tests on Embark, a genetic profiling company for dogs.
Would-be adopters are vetted and matched with dogs that seem to be a good fit, spending a week or two with a dog before the adoption goes through. The fee is $500, which helps pay for some of the cost to transport one dog. The all-volunteer organization fundraises to offset costs. It operates on a budget of $100,000 a year; Riska has spent over $25,000 of her own money.
At a recent adoption event in the lounge of an apartment complex in Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood, dogs from the latest shipment milled around with their fosterers as potential adopters got to know them.
Suzy Ganz of Owings Mills came with her husband after seeing one of the dogs, Zina, on the Wings of Love website. Zina had just been adopted a half-hour earlier, but Yoon asked Ganz what she liked about Zina so she could try to find a similar dog.
“First of all, she has a sweet face,” Ganz said. “And reading that she was very, very kind and had a sweet personality.”
Zina, a delicate, doe-eyed dog, had distended teats from nursing orphaned puppies at the farm in Kuwait. She had been lactating when she was found, although her own puppies were not found. At the adoption event, she was gentle with a 5-year-old girl who ran up to pet her.
Daisy Smith, 28, and her boyfriend, Matt Allinson, 24, were there with Carla, a dog they had taken home a week earlier for a trial.
“She was tied up at the airport to a lamppost,” Allinson said.
“We’re just getting to know her, she’s warming up more and more,” Smith said, adding that Carla had seemed a little daunted by the Baltimore winter until the adoption event, when temperatures rose into the 50s. “She had no interest in being outside — today I think was the first time.”
Prospective owners typically have a trial period with a dog for up to two weeks, but Smith and Allinson had already submitted an application to adopt Carla. “Her temperament is very, very relaxed,” Smith said.
With so many Kuwaiti dogs living in proximity to each other, there are play dates and reunions, along with a Facebook page. Some dogs are related — a few pregnant mothers have had puppies before or after coming to the United States, and some of the siblings continue to see each other.
And the more dogs that come, the more their local fame increases.
“We were at a brewery and someone came up and said, ‘I got my dog at Wings of Love Kuwait, too,’” said Rozmus, 23. “It’s a community. I didn’t grow up in this area, so just finding people who have the same values and interests that I do just kind of makes me feel at home and it gives me a relationship to the city.” (Eutaw is also a Baltimore girl now; she is named after a street that runs through the city.)
“It’s an easy way to start a conversation and kind of make friends,” she added. “Everybody talks about it and then you talk about it to others and everybody knows somebody and it becomes a five-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon kind of thing.”