Spring Township, Pa. -
Four canines touched down at Philadelphia International Airport on Friday morning after starting their journey more than 6,400 miles away in Kuwait.
On Saturday, they made the final leg of their trip to Berks County to go to foster homes that are part of The CatWorks Inc. rescue group.
The fosters met their new charges during an adoption event held at Petco in the Broadcasting Square Shopping Center, Spring Township.
Why are dogs from a tiny, oil-rich nation in the Middle East flown to Berks County?
"They don't necessarily have the veterinary care there that we do here," said Nikki Mengel, co-founder of The CatWorks.
"Basically we have five clinics only, three awful and two really good, but also really, really expensive," wrote Maha Mullajuma Al Khatibe, founder of Kuwait Awareness, Rehabilitation & Education, in an email interview. "People fail to see why anyone would waste their time, energy and money on helping animals."
Mullajuma Al Khatib was born in Kuwait, but grew up living abroad most of her life. She returned to Kuwait in 2013 and founded a rescue.
"I am a news anchor by day. I do the morning news on the state TV, and it helps because I can then be free the rest of the day to rescue animals," she wrote.
Religious beliefs are another reason there are many abandoned pets in Kuwait.
"In Islam people seem to have taken a context that says having dogs in a house will block its blessings," she wrote. "On the other hand, the holy book carries verses of stories of men with a dog being protected by an angel . Unfortunately, people still focus on the part that dogs are not holy, not a blessing and are dirty."
Mengel, a Reading High graduate, moved to Spring Township about 3 1/2 years ago.
"Everything goes through customs, so they have all of the necessary vaccines: rabies, distemper," Mengel said. "They only deal with one worm over there, it's the screw worm and they have to have a test. Customs doesn't want that worm coming over here. They don't deal with kennel cough over there, they don't deal with heartworm over there. Some come spayed or neutered, some don't. It just depends on the timing of getting them here."
"We have to first have them fully checked," Mullajuma Al Khatib wrote. "If in need of any medical attention, we do take care of that. We don't have rabies in Kuwait but we give all animals traveling to the U.S. the rabies shots and the screw worm test. They have to be clear of any illness in order to be able to fly, as well as microchipped."
According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, Kuwait is a rabies-free country. The last report of rabies in the country was 1994.
Dr. Shelley C. Rankin, associate professor of microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Philadelphia, said she was surprised by that information.
She said that there would be some concerns of spreading diseases endemic to the Middle East by bringing dogs to the U.S. She noted the leishmania parasite and the ehrlichia canis bacteria.
Rankin said the origin of the dogs would be the main contributing factor in evaluating any risk, with feral dogs from the street being of more concern than dogs surrendered by owners that had proper puppy vaccinations.
Mengel said her organization started bringing over cats from Kuwait about a year ago and brought over its first dogs in April or May.
In 2016, The CatWorks adopted out 217 dogs and so far this year it has re-homed 243. They have brought over about 30 dogs from Kuwait this year.
One dog in particular has affected Mengel: Nico. He's a young German shepherd who has a bullet lodged in his spine, paralyzing his rear legs and making him incontinent.
"He's just the happiest thing ever," Mengel said. "He makes people with problems look at life differently. They look at him and he is just the happiest boy."
Mengel said Dr. Christine M. Runnels, a surgeon at Lititz Veterinary Clinic in Lititz, Lancaster County, evaluated Nico.
"She fears if the bullet were to be extracted it could cause more damage," Mengel said. "Right now he does have some feeling in his legs."
Nico is being fostered by Kathy Leser of Lititz, who has picked up Kuwaiti dogs at the airport several times with Mengel's mother, Marcia Mengel, 70, of Myerstown.
"If you see our account on Instagram, @kareq8
, you'll see awful stories, but most of them have happy endings," Mullajuma Al Khatib wrote.Contact Susan E. Miers Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-371-5048.