As the dogs touch down on a plane from Kuwait, each arrives with a story: Hope was the last survivor pulled from a pile of dead puppies; Stella had been stabbed eight times; Mandy is recovering from pancreatitis.
Jennifer Yoon recalls their histories as she scrolls through pictures of some of the 152 dogs her organization has rescued from abuse and neglect in the small Persian Gulf country the past year. Yoon is co-founder and vice president of Wings of Love, Kuwait, a Baltimore-based organization that just received its nonprofit status this month after more than a year of transporting dogs to the United States.
Standing in the cellphone lot at Dulles International Airport, Yoon is waiting for more dogs that will soon arrive on a flight with Patricia Riska, founder and president of Wings of Love, Kuwait. It’s about a 30-hour “turn and burn” trip from Dulles and back.
A flight attendant for United Airlines, Riska founded Wings of Love, now a five-volunteer operation with 10 to 20 foster homes, after traveling to Kuwait for work. The Riverside, Md., resident, who connected with another flight attendant who was finding new homes for animals there, brought home her first dog in April 2015.
Yoon learned of Riska’s work when she was looking to adopt a second dog and joined the effort. They incorporated as Wings of Love, Kuwait in October 2015.
Riska lands on Monday with seven dogs in tow. Popeye and Luna flew with her in the cabin in a soft carrier; chubby brother-and-sister pair Hershey and Sherry arrived in a crate; Jeff the poodle and Gipsy the papillon mix flew together in a third cage; and German shepherd mix Cecilia, the only large dog of the bunch, traveled alone in a fourth crate.
Yoon, along with Riska’s husband, Bryn, circle around to the passenger pickup zone when they get word that she’s cleared customs. They load the crates into their cars and head back to the cellphone lot, where the dogs stretch their legs in an adjacent dog park.
Popeye scratches at the grass. Jeff sits and stays on the familiar concrete. Cecilia bounds around the fenced-in yard.
“There’s barely any grass in Kuwait, so this is new for them, and they just either rub themselves in it or they eat it,” Patricia Riska said. “It’s so funny to watch them.”
Riska and Yoon connected with rescuers in Kuwait through women like Karen Orobey, a Florence, Ore., resident who lived in Kuwait for 20 years. “Finding a permanent home in Kuwait for a dog and even a cat is really difficult,” Orobey said. “It’s easier to rehome them outside of the country.”
That’s because many Kuwaitis regard dogs as disposable accessories rather than as part of the family, she said. Animals are usually kept outside — many times, on roofs — in the desert heat, and abandoned when they become sick or are no longer novel.
“They want a dog because it’s cute, because it’s trendy — because all the bad reasons people want dogs — and then they realize it’s a lot of responsibility,” Yoon said. Many of the dogs Wings of Love rescues are expensive purebreds, such as Malteses, Yorkshire terriers and huskies. “It just amazes me because they spend so much money on their animals and they just don’t want to deal with it when they get sick.”
Those dogs end up on the street, where many are picked up by merchants and sold at Kuwait City’s Friday Market. The dogs that don’t sell there are typically discarded or killed. International groups have been pressuring the Kuwaiti government to regulate the market, which has little to no standards of animal care, according to news reports and online petitions. Representatives from the Embassy of the State of Kuwait could not be reached Wednesday night to comment.
Riska said she has traveled all over the world and seen some of the worst animal abuse in Kuwait.
“People don’t get it — they’re like, ‘Oh, okay, why Kuwait?’ ” Riska said. “And once I took Jennifer, she was like, ‘I get it now why you’re doing it.’ ”
Popeye, a three-pound speckled imp of a dog, was pulled from the Friday Market. He’s now being fostered by local magician Spencer Horsman at his Federal Hill home in Baltimore. Horsman adopted his own dog, Loki, from Wings of Love several weeks ago.
“When people look at this dog, they’re like, ‘There’s no way this is a rescue’ ” animal, Horsman said of the Pomeranian mix with red fur and black spots that wind down his body and curly tail.
There’s a demand for small, young dogs like Loki in the Baltimore area, and that’s part of what makes it a good adoption market for Wings of Love.