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 U.S. 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.
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 [she] and I were in a jumpseat 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.’”
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’s because, in a culture with a lot of money, puppies frequently are purchased from breeders in Europe and then owners don’t keep them for more than a year, said Jennifer Yoon, cofounder and vice president of Wings of Love.
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."
After meeting the Kuwaiti women who were working in cat rescue, Riska started taking one or two dogs at a timewith her on the 14-hour journey home. In 2015, she and Yoon founded the rescue organization, which became a nonprofit a year later. Yoon also adopted two Kuwaiti dogs.
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 Washington, D.C., and over 30 in Virginia.
Many arrive 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.
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." In Kuwait, "they’re viewed as being just stray dogs but here they look exotic.”
In fact, Maryland is now 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. The $500 adoption fee helps pay the cost to transport one dog. The all-volunteer organization raises its own funds and operates on a $100,00 annual budget. Riska alone has donated $25,000 to the cause.
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, Maryland, 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."
With so many Kuwaiti dogs living in proximity to one another, 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 U.S., and some of the siblings continue to see one another.
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."