This dog travelled 10,000 km to find a new home in Toronto

This dog travelled 10,000 km to find a new home in Toronto
By Melissa Wilson
OpenFile Toronto
May 25, 2012

Brownie is a chocolate brown boxer. He’s got a lovable personal, giant eyes and a mug that should be featured on an adorable animals tumblr. He’s just celebrated his third birthday, and after spending the last year in a shelter, he’s now being housed in a foster home in Toronto. This is a story that’s told over and over again on animal adoption cause sites, but what makes Brownie so remarkable is not that he’s on his way to finding a home, but that he travelled over 10,000 kilometres to get there.

Brownie was born and raised in Kuwait.

Kuwait, for the non-geographically inclined, is a sovereign nation state of mostly desert surrounding Kuwait City, which has a population a little larger than Toronto’s, nestled between Iraq and Saudi Arabia on the Persian Gulf. Kuwait sits on some of the world’s largest oil reserves, which has historically put it in a predictably tumultuous position. As if the area hasn’t had enough issues to deal with, it’s also not a particularly pleasant place to be a dog.

While dogs and cats in Toronto are most often considered members of the family, treated to cushy beds, organic food and solid representation on their owner’s Instagram feeds, family pets in Kuwait are little more than household props, equivalent to the fuzzy baby chick adopted on Good Friday, and neglected by Easter Monday.

Manuela Winkler, of the Protecting Animal Welfare Society of Kuwait (PAWS), has dozens of stories of pet dogs left to the streets because a family was going on vacation, and couldn’t be bothered to board them, or because the animal got sick, and the family feared that it would infect their children. It gets so hot in the summer (over 50 degrees C) that “even camels collapse,” says Winkler. Animal cruelty is common.

Winkler guesses the life expectancy of a dog on the streets of Kuwait to be a year or two, and maybe four or five for a cat, if it can avoid getting hit by a car. By comparison, a well taken care of dog or cat in Canada could be reasonably expected to live 15 or 20 years, respectively, or more.

“I’ve rarely met someone whose dog lived to be 14 or 15 years old,” she says.

Worse, still, are the big dogs like Brownie who are used in dog fighting, and then cast aside when they weren’t good enough at it. (Brownie’s been described as a “lover, not a fighter.”) Brownie was rescued by two PAWS volunteers, found wounded, dehydrated and, basically, broken. He slowly came back to life after medical care and a lot of TLC.

While Winkler is quick to point out that there are many responsible pet owners in Kuwait, and the number is growing, there are still few who have the ability or want to take on a large dog like Brownie, so she started looking into other options for him.

Karen Orobey seemed to have the answer. Orobey, co-founder of PAWS, runs Pet Passage, a company that transports (imports and exports, really) animals in Kuwait. She got in touch with Linda Lloyd, director of intake for Boxer Rescue Ontario, and asked, if PAWS could raise the money to fund the travel, would BRO take Brownie? Lloyd was game.

“There are not enough loving homes for pets here in Kuwait, so sending a pet overseas is often a better option,” says Orobey. “We felt like Brownie deserved a different life than just living at the shelter.”

Brownie’s trip cost about $1,300 CAD.

PAWS runs completely on donations and fundraising efforts — its monthly operating costs sit at about $7,000 — and is managed mostly by volunteers, and a few paid staff. In addition to providing a shelter for abandoned animals, it also tries to promote education on animal welfare, dog fights and the importance of spaying and neutering pets. They also run an emergency hotline. They have about 10 new rescues a week. The adoption rate is low, and PAWS has a “non-killing policy,” which means the majority of the pups there are what Winkler calls “permanent guests.”

“These people are working very hard under very dire circumstances,” says Lloyd of the PAWS team.

PAWS works mostly with cats and dogs, currently housing 120 dogs and over 80 cats, but has also been involved in the rescue of donkeys, horses, eagles and rabbits. “We once fought against a restaurant chain who offered a goldfish with each kid’s mean,” Winkler says. “I know it’s just a goldfish, but the ethical idea behind it is just unacceptable. I don’t know how many of them ended up in a garbage bin.”

Brownie’s ending is looking happier, though. He arrived safely in Toronto on May 11. He spent the first few days with Lloyd, before being moved to a foster home, where he’ll spend time recouping and getting used to being around people, and just generally learning how to be a pet dog (he’s not housebroken, can’t understand English, and didn’t even know how to climb up stairs).

“I would have kept him myself, but I work long hours, so it’s not ideal,” says Lloyd. “He’s got to get used to living in a house.”

After a few weeks in foster care, he’ll be placed for adoption.

“A lot of the rescued animals have been abused, so gaining their trust could take some time,” says Orobey. “But when they do trust you and give you that unconditional love, it’s such a beautiful thing.”

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