RABIA, KUWAIT— An Army veterinarian led a groundbreaking canine behavior lecture and demonstration at Kuwait’s Public Authority Agriculture Affairs and Fish Resources headquarters for an audience that included the director, as well as other government officials, community leaders, and students.
“We are working with the Host Nation to establish a relationship and get a program for stray dogs off the ground,” said Capt. Emrick Whitfield, the officer-in-charge of the Camp Arifjan Veterinary Facility.
Whitfield, a graduate of the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said the Kuwaiti government invited her to speak as part of its recognition that it needed to improve its handling of stray dogs.
“They have a constantly growing stray population and the veterinarians in Kuwait are not set up to castrate safely,” she said.
“When you run the numbers, one female and one male—in a span of six years—can end up with 67,000 puppies, so if you are able to spay and neuter just one set, you’ll start to see the stray population decrease over time.”
“There is also an ever-changing perspective on dogs in Kuwait,” Whitfield said. “There is still a lot of fear—we see some people have gone so far as to have dogs as pets in the home—but, with that shift in attitude there is not the awareness that we typically see even with young kids in America, where they learn to interact with dogs—not so much here.”
Among those attending the presentation were Col. John J. Herrman, the commander of Area Support Group-Kuwait and His Highness Mohammed Yousef Al Sabah, a retired Kuwaiti general officer and now the board chairman and the director for Public Authority for Agriculture Affairs and Fish Resources.
His Highness Mohammad Yousef Al Sabah said he was thrilled by the quality of Whitfield’s presentation.
“First, it was great,” he said.
“Second, we have this problem with dogs all over the streets, in the city and outside the city, and most of them are dangerous—we have had incidents where we have to bring people to hospitals,” the PAAAFR director said. “We are trying to get rid of the dogs in a humane way. That’s what we are doing and she is helping us in this.”
His Highness Mohammad Yousef Al Sabah said his ministry is also supporting the effort to rescue the dogs and find them homes.
“We are capturing some of these dogs and anybody who would like to have them, we will give them away—of course, after a vaccination and after we put in a chip, so we know, if we find the dog, who signed to take care of it,” he said.
Kuwaiti partnership with Army’s ASG-Kuwait builds country’s animal rescue program
Herrman said stray dogs are a problem on American installations, as well as throughout Kuwait itself.
“Stray dogs in Kuwait have been a problem since the dog population has not been controlled. This had led to large groups migrating to the areas around our installations,” he said. “To protect the residents at Camps Arifjan and Beuhring, we catch the wild dogs. But, until recently, we had nowhere to rehome them, which ultimately led to many being euthanized. But now the Kuwaitis are developing an animal shelter capability, we can, now, neuter and vaccinate the dogs and turn them over to the shelter.”
The colonel said that recently Area Support Group-Kuwait turned over neutered stray dogs to the shelter run by the Public Authority for Agricultural Affairs and fisheries (PAAAFR), and His Highness Mohammad Yousef Al-Sabah, director of the PAAFR, called him. “He said: ‘Hey, you guys neutered these dogs? How did you do that? Will you come help show us how to do that?’”
Herrman said there is a partnership developing between the Area Support Group-Kuwait’s veterinarians and the PAAAFR team, which still only has a handful of shelters in the whole country.
“The program benefits not only Kuwait, but our installations as well, because we have a place to rehome strays. They now meet regularly about how to establish the program and care for rescued animals,” he said. “They are trying to expand their capability to do rescue--it just started about four months ago, so this presentation is a natural progression.”
‘Canine Behavior, Care and Safety’ seminar offers lessons on how to approach dogs
In the captain’s presentation, “Canine Behavior, Care and Safety,” she discussed how to read a dog’s body language in order to approach a dog safely and secure the dog for transfer to a clinic or shelter.
During the 40-minute talk, Whitfield went through slides showing how to read a dog’s mood by the position of his ears. For example, when the dog’s ears are tilted straight back, the dog is fearful or stressed. However, if the dog’s ears are wide out and his tongue is hanging out, the dog is in a friendly mood and is safe to approach.
Whitfield said when adults or older children are approached by a strange dog that they do not want to interact with, the best thing to do is avoid eye contact and make like a tree, standing stiff with arms flat alongside the body.
Small children should be taught to curl up and make like a rock with fingers tucked in their palms with their hands protecting their face, she said.
In most cases, she said, the strange dog will make a few sniffs and then move on.
The captain was joined on the staged by Sgt. Iisa Stephens, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the Camp Arifjan Veterinary Facility, and Enzo, one of the five dogs belonging to Kuwaiti canine advocate Shaikha Alsadon.
Alasdon is the founder of the canine welfare organization Souls.Care, a non-profit online platform that aims to bring pets and their owners together.
Whitfield said the goal of her talk was to teach the Kuwaitis how to safely interact with stray dogs.
“Most of the dogs here—that are strays and I have worked with a lot of them—they are not aggressive. They are not used to being around humans in a home every day, so it’s just about educating the public how to safely work with them,” the captain said.
“Especially, the people here today are specifically ones who want to go out more and rehabilitate these strays and get them homed,” she said.
“They also want to bring them in for spaying and neutering, which is the other part of our program. We are training the doctors how to spay these dogs.”
In the demonstration, Stephens demonstrated how to properly restrain Enzo, using both arms, one around the collarbone and the other around the dog’s torso.
The captain also referred to the catch-pole demonstrated by Stephens on the stage, a four-foot long tube with a handle on one end that controls the lasso line that passes through the tube and forms a loop at the other end.
Kuwaiti canine advocate explains how she came to love dogs
Alsadon said she was very happy that she and Enzo were part of the seminar, because she is an example of how attitudes about dogs are changing in Kuwait.
“I got him two years ago. I got him when he was eight-weeks,” she said.
“Two years ago, I was scared of dogs—scared—afraid and scared,” she said.
“I did not understand why they barked—I always thought they would attack me.
“When I got him, I tried to understand his body language and his behavior. When I learned to understand his behavior, I tried to like him,” she said.
“I understand one thing, if you have a lack of information about anything unknown, you will be afraid,” she said.
“The more information you have, the more you can be secure. This is what happened to me with dogs. I went from being scared of dogs to rescuing street dogs,” she said.
Now, everyone in her family loves dogs, Alsadon said.
“We love them,” she said. “We have five dogs now.”
Another canine advocate at the presentation was Canadian Elika Mansouri, who said she teaches high school math locally, in addition to running her own dog rescue organization called: icare.
“I’ve been rescuing for more than a year now,” the Toronto-native said. “My focus has been mostly cats, but it has expanded to dogs and to stray dogs mainly.”
In the last year, the math teacher said she and her volunteers rescued more than 100 stray dogs. “We work together to trap them and take them to the shelter and then, we try to find them homes.”