Mohammad, a 38-year-old expat in Saudi Arabia, bought a dog from a pet shop in Jeddah, a coastal city on the Red sea, three years ago. The dog was big and loud, and his children wanted a smaller dog to play and grow up with. The father could not find a little puppy to buy for his demanding children.
One day, he read an article on dog adoption and asked himself a question: “Why buy if I can adopt a rescue dog?” The answer was Open Paws Jeddah (OPJ), a group that rescues and rehomes dogs in Jeddah founded in 2012.
OPJ Co-founder of Carmel Heydon and Adoption Coordinator Nour Fitiany were kind enough to take some time out of their day for this interview.
American singer and songwriter Captain Beefheart, once said: “You can tell by the kindness of a dog how a human should be.”
But what makes dogs so special and lovable?
“They are loyal, forgiving, humble, and they heal physically and mentally faster than humans do. Their lives are simple, and they need very little from us to be happy. We have a lot to learn from dogs”, said Heydon and Fitiany.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
“OPJ was created by a small group of expats in 2012. It ran on a foster-based system, with as many dogs as could be kept in the homes of the core group and their friends. All medical and daily costs came out of the pockets of those same few. Word was mostly spread through Facebook. All but Carmel have left, but since then many more people of various ages, nationalities, occupations and backgrounds have joined the team,” Heydon and Fitiany explained.
“Since 2014, we have a small private kennel, where we can keep some of the rescued dogs until foster or forever homes are found for them. We now have a website which has made it easier for people to apply to volunteer, foster or adopt and get a better idea about what we do,” they added.
OPJ have successfully taken in and rehomed more than 400 dogs, and have sent more than 40 dogs to be rehomed abroad. Due to their vast network, they have also been able to help countless dog owners who have lost their dogs, reunite with them.
UNWANTED AND ABANDONED
Some dogs are left by their owners to fend for themselves on the streets. But what can lead to a dog being abandoned by the people they depend on to care for them?
“You would really need to ask the owners that! If only the dogs we rescue from the streets could talk! Unfortunately, they cannot, all we can do is guess based on the state we find the poor dogs in.”, said Heydon and Fitiany.
“Most dogs that are rescued are male. Maybe people were tired of their behavior (marking and humping), maybe they ran out because they were looking to mate. Many are found with ticks, skin problems and no or extremely matted hair. It is possible they were kept outside, not given the proper care or diet, and when they started to smell and get sick, their owners got scared and just let them go out or dumped them. Many times, people want to travel and have no thoughts about what to do with the dog, so they see their only choice is to dump them,” they explained.
“About 35% of the dogs in our care are rescued from the street, 65% are surrendered by their previous owners due to quite often trivial reasons such as allergies, neighbors complaining, dog too energetic, no time for the dog, new baby, or they didn’t think it would be this much responsibility.”
STRICT ADOPTION CONDITIONS
Open Paws Jeddah have strict conditions and specific qualifications that need to be met by potential adopters. Some fail, others pass, and it might take the adopter more than one round of household inspection to get approved for adoption.
“We have strict conditions and qualifications because we want to ensure the dog is in the right environment that suits him/her with a person who can provide his/her needs while also avoiding as much as possible that the dog is abandoned for a second time. Many people are not ideal candidates due to their housing, lack of experience in the case of certain dogs, or have unrealistic expectations,” said Heydon and Fitiany.
“We know that our process can hinder some people from adopting a dog from us, but more often it is just more proof maybe they are not serious or ready to have a dog”, they added.
Heydon and Fitiany say they have learnt valuable lessons over the years.
“With every dog rescued, surrendered and adopted, we are learning more and gaining more and more experience and always trying to improve and become more efficient. We have looked to international organizations for our process, application questions and adoption agreement terms (we have of course added our own touches to suit the local community trends and behaviors). We have also built strong relationships with overseas rescue groups and have sent to them those dogs that we were not able to adopt out locally or those who are more suited to a colder climate like huskies and malamutes,” they explained.
Covid-19 has affected every part of our lives, and that includes dog adoption.
“COVID-19, especially the lockdown, has increased both foster carers and adopters because people were staying at home and were able to provide more time and companionship. This came in handy when we had to shut down our kennel for a few weeks as we were able to place the dogs in foster homes more easily,” they said.
However, there were concerns around the adoption process and destiny of the adopted dogs after the lockdown.
“Adoptions were difficult because we couldn’t perform home-visits which are an integral part of the adoption process. Moreover, we had to be sure that the potential adopters were thinking long-term past the lockdown when life went back to normal and not just about their free-time due to the situation. Sadly, after the lockdown, we had many dogs surrendered because people had bought them from pet shops and online sellers during the lockdown and now no longer had time for them,” the two ladies said.
FINANCIAL SUPPORT AND EXPANSION
Saving dogs never comes without a cost. One of the questions that come to mind is how the costs of rescuing and fostering dogs are covered and where OPJ receives its funding from.
Heydon and Fitiany explained that the volunteers donate and pay from their own pockets to support a cause they believe in.
“We are still very much a group of volunteers who rescue and rehome dogs. We have a very good network of volunteers who rescue, foster and/or care for the dogs in our small private kennel and who actively look for good permanent homes for them. We are not yet receiving government funding but hope that will change in the future,” they said.
The group have been rescuing dogs in Jeddah since 2012, but currently have no plans to expand into other cities. They do however work closely with other shelters and rescue groups across Saudi Arabia.
Heydon, the Jeddah-based Australian co-founder, told me that she is incredibly proud of everything they have achieved: “I am so proud of what we have achieved and what we continue to achieve. First and foremost, of course, in the many dogs we have helped to a better life and the many volunteers who have found joy and a purpose in giving back to our community. The friendships forged through the desire and passion for helping these dogs goes beyond age, experience, and background. As many of us will tell you - it gets into your blood.”