May 6, 2010
Here's a "sneak preview" of an article that will be published in the July 2010 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. These dogs can't wait until the magazine reaches our subscribers and newsstands. Please contact these animal rescue facilities to see how you can help.
﻿Kuwaiti Dogs Looking for Loving Homes in Washington, DC
By Michael Keating
A survivor of the fire that destroyed the Kuwaiti shelter shows Edward Wilson, animal caretaker at the Washington Animal Rescue League, that he knows the English words for "sit" and "cheese."
"These are some of the nicest dogs we've ever taken in," said Communications Officer Elise Ledsinger. It was a sentiment that was echoed throughout the Washington Animal Rescue League facility. Juanisha Lee, an adoptions coordinator, was impressed. So was Gary Weitzman, the organization's president and CEO.
"Especially when you think of everything these dogs have gone through," he said. First there was the fire, then they were penned in the desert, and finally they were shipped to the United States. "It shows you just how incredible dogs can be."
When Kuwait's only animal shelter in Safat was destroyed by an electrical fire on March 22, killing 39 animals, the Animal League Friends of Kuwait was faced with a crisis: 60 dogs with no place to go. As a temporary expedient, they had to be crated or kept in the greenhouse. Homes in Kuwait were found for two-thirds of the dogs. The Humane Society International swung into action and contacted the Washington Animal Rescue League about the remainder.
﻿"Between 70-75 percent of our animals come from other shelters," Weitzman said. Nonetheless, they had never accepted a shipment from so far away. If the League had any reservations, the Kuwaitis quickly allayed them.
"The people there made it so easy," he said. They carefully crated the dogs, after veterinarians had thoroughly examined them. All dogs had papers (in English and Arabic) declaring them in good health and free of disease. The long flights had to be postponed by the volcanic dust that hung over Europe, so instead of one shipment, the dogs were sent in batches. In the end, the Washington shelter will receive about 30 dogs.
"These dogs are so sweet," Weitzman repeated. "Even when they first arrived after the long flight, they were all sweet and friendly."
They contrasted dramatically with other dogs at the shelter that had been taken in from Mississippi. Those animals had been taken from a "dog hoarder" who had kept over 175 dogs in her trailer and on her property. Those dogs had arrived hairless with mange and starving, their bellies swollen with parasites.
"We are here for animals with no other place to go," Weitzman said. While the Kuwaiti dogs have caused a flurry of media attention, next week the shelter expects a shipment of dogs from West Virginia.
There has been a mixed reaction from people who've asked the shelter, aren't there enough pets to deal with in your own neighborhood? "We want people to know there was nowhere else for these animals to go," Weitzman emphasized. "We specialize in disaster rescues—we took dogs after floods in Cedar Rapids and New Orleans."
The Washington Animal Rescue League is a handsome, well-considered facility with a 350-animal capacity. Natural light pours through skylights and through glass panels over which runs a constant stream of water. The water softens the light and plays on the ground. The soft movement of water and the classical music help to keep the animals calm—a striking contrast to the hysterical barking common in most shelters.
The cages are entirely glassed. Half the floor of each cage is at ground level; the other half, which is heated, is one step up. There is a complete veterinary medical center; care is provided at low or no cost for Washington, DC pets whose owners are in financial need. Its dedicated staff includes medical staff, adoption coordinators, and behavioral specialists.
The Washington Animal Rescue League receives no government money—it is completely funded by private donations, and gladly accepts financial assistance. Its Web site, <www.warl.org>, offers several donation options.
But for now, the shelter is focused on one thing: finding some good people who want some good dogs.
"Some of these dogs, I'm sure, had been attached to U.S. service members" who later let them go when they were redeployed, Weitzman said. In a way, he added, the Kuwait rescue effort allows us to "make good on our mistakes."
While Animal Friends League of Kuwait has asked for nothing but loving homes for their dogs, readers can visit
<www.animalfriendskuwait.org> to help rebuild Kuwait's only animal shelter.
Michael Keating is editor of The Vietnam Veterans of America, occasional writer for the Washington Report, and new owner of a dog from Kuwait.
Washington Animal Rescue League
71 Oglethorpe Street, NW
Washington, DC 20011
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