Four legs and wings

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Sarah Mee­han

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 was 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 dur­ing the last 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 U.S.

Stand­ing in the cell­phone lot at Wash­ing­ton Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Yoon is wait­ing for more dogs that will soon ar­rive on a flight with Pa­tri­cia Riska, Wings of Love, Kuwait’s founder and pres­i­dent. 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 res­i­dent con­nected with an­other flight at­ten­dant who was find­ing new homes for an­i­mals there, and 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 landed on Mon­day with seven dogs in tow. Pop­eye and Luna flew with her in the cabin in a soft car­rier; chubby broth­er­sis­ter 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 the fourth and fi­nal crate.

Yoon and 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 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 like 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 for com­ment Wednes­day night.

Riska said she’s trav­eled all over the world, and she’s seen some of the worst an­i­mal abuse in Kuwait.

“Peo­ple don’t get it — they’re like, ‘Oh, OK, 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. 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’ ” Lo­cal ma­gi­cian Spencer Hors­man, who adopted a dog named Loki, cen­ter, from the Wings Of Love, Kuwait or­ga­ni­za­tion, is also fos­ter­ing Pop­eye, left, who ar­rived from Kuwait on Mon­day. He said he hopes to even­tu­ally travel to Kuwait to help re­trieve dogs him­self. 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.

“You’re go­ing to turn me into a crazy dog dude,” Hors­man said to Riska as she dropped Pop­eye off Mon­day night.

Hors­man hopes to even­tu­ally travel to Kuwait to help Wings of Love re­trieve dogs. Vol­un­teers take the round-trip flight to Kuwait about once a month to bring back any­where from four to 14 dogs, some of which come with med­i­cal is­sues, like den­tal prob­lems and old bro­ken bones. Some­times un­fore­seen prob­lems arise; Yoon had a Ger­man shep­herd that sud­denly went blind.

“These are dogs that are even screened be­fore they come,” Yoon said. “Re­ally sick dogs, a lot of times they don’t even make it in Kuwait, so they are se­lected from the dogs that we think are adopt­able.”

Wings of Love works with a group of women in Kuwait who take dogs into their homes while they await trans­port to the U.S. One woman has mul­ti­ple apart­ments dedi- cated to dog res­cue.

The dogs are given nec­es­sary shots and usu­ally spayed or neutered be­fore they leave the coun­try. Jan­ice Mosher, a spokes­woman for U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion, said her agency re­quires dogs to be up to date on ra­bies vac­cines and to ap­pear healthy when they en­ter the coun­try.

“I re­ally, re­ally love do­ing this be­cause I see the dif­fer­ence in these dogs,” Riska said. “These dogs come so de­pressed. ... Once they’re here and they’re get­ting love, they smile.”

Wings of Love charges high adop­tion fees to cover the cost of the dogs’ trans­porta­tion from Kuwait — the larger the dog, the more ex­pen­sive it is to trans­port. Small adult dogs go for $300, pup­pies are $400 and large adult dogs are $500 each.

Yoon said they try to travel for less than $1,300, but round-trip tick­ets can cost as much as $3,000 in the sum­mer.

Aside from adop­tion fees, most of Wings of Love’s fund­ing comes in the form of do­na­tions. It also takes in-kind do­na­tions — toys, treats and other dog equip­ment — for its fos­ter net­work.

Natalie Martelli, a nurse at Univer­sity of Mary­land Med­i­cal Cen­ter, has been fos­ter­ing Eric, a small white ter­rier mix with gray spots, for about six weeks. The River­side res­i­dent hasn’t got­ten any adop­tion ap­pli­ca­tions for him yet. She added Her­shey and Sherry, a pair of shy black ter­ri­ers, to her fos­ter home Mon­day.

“It’s hard not to get at­tached,” Martelli said.

Riska said she tries to get ev­ery adop­tion ap­pli­cant a dog. Wings of Love con­ducts ex­ten­sive home vis­its and al­lows po­ten­tial adopters to take dogs home for two-week tri­als with a $100 de­posit.

The work doesn’t end af­ter each adop­tion. The or­ga­ni­za­tion has al­ready iden­ti­fied an­i­mals it hopes to bring back to Bal­ti­more next month, in­clud­ing Mar­cel, who is re­cov­er­ing from dis­tem­per, and Aurora, a white husky whose back legs are par­a­lyzed.

“If they stay in Kuwait, they will die,” Yoon said. “I wish we could do more, be­cause for ev­ery dog that we bring over, there’s like 10 more.”

BAR­BARA HAD­DOCK TAY­LOR/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Pa­tri­cia Riska, co-founder and pres­i­dent of Wings of Love, Kuwait, holds two of the seven dogs that ar­rived at Dulles Air­port on Mon­day. Riska and vice pres­i­dent Jen­nifer Yoon in­cor­po­rated the or­ga­ni­za­tion in Oc­to­ber 2015 and it now has five vol­un­teers with 10 to 20 fos­ter homes.

BAR­BARA HAD­DOCK TAY­LOR/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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