Thursday, March 28, 2019

Untraining - A magical place of animal/human partnership

My friend, Amy Swope, wrote the beautiful, poetic post below.  Amy has worked with K9s for a very long time and has seen the good/bad/ugly of the working dog world.  She stopped, and started a rescue from the ground up in rural Virginia for dogs – many that are sent from Kuwait from horrific conditions.   See her Facebook site on  (Please donate if you can.)

She should also look into a career as a writer!

I virtually met Amy when she was trying to help get remaining dogs from being euthanized by Eastern Services – a K9 sniffer dog company who had lost their contract with KNPC and had started killing their dogs rather than returning them to the States.  She and local rescuers managed to get many dogs back to the US and re-homed.

When I read Amy's story below, it made me think of all the neveux dog owners in Kuwait and how so many have bought into the Ceasar Milan misconception of getting your dog to be submissive to the owner (and all the new, "trainers" who have popped up  recently with the same thought process) instead of being (as Amy says) "partners".  I remember taking my German Shepherd to get groomed in Kuwait.   He was approximately a year old and I was waiting in PetZone for our appointment.  Mikey (who, I now know will never get along with other dogs - just the way he is - and that's ok) was barking nervously.  A young man came over and started advising me on how to deal with Mikey (because the man had seen the entire Ceasar Milan collection on DVD) and then poked Mikey with the hissing noise.  Mikey turned his head to look at me for permission to bite (I wanted to agree, but just told the man to go away). Because Mikey and I ARE partners, sometimes a look is enough to understand each other.  He has trained me well.

Amy is a wonderful, compassionate, caring person and I love her perspective.   Read on….


There is something very specific that overcomes my heart when working with crazy animals. The genetic machines. Outliers of the animal world. The ones who don’t quite fit the domestic mold. Or broken spirits, tangled in the unnatural weight of society’s burdens. It is a moment that i call “untraining”. It took me 10 years of “training” to learn the art of untraining. It is the moment the animal lets go of its past experiences of human interaction. And when I let go of human expectations placed on the animal. And we jive in that sweet spot of mutual respect. That partnership where “dominant” and “submissive” melt back into the neatly packaged Caesar Milan marketing campaign. And where all the control devices for “training” fall into a suburban poop bag which then gets tied into a tight little knot and tossed into the Rubbermaid bin.

All of that is gone and we are back at square one. That point where we say, I won’t fuck with you if you don’t fuck with me... let’s work together... just like humans and dogs evolved to do. I was never a wolf, and the dog was never a human, so we will never relate to each other on those terms. Man is the provider of needs for the dog. Dog is the provider of protection for the man. We are companions. I am not his alpha, nor is he my human child. We are partners.

I’ve been bitten. I’ve been thrown from a horse. I respect both of those responses as natural for the animal and I know that somewhere I’ve crossed a boundary. I back up and analyze natural ways to renegotiate those boundaries. How can I help the animal believe that it’s in their own best interest to expand their world? That isn’t training - that is teaching. And it’s an art.

Ive been laying awake all night thinking of when i started as a K9 trainer living in South Africa. Thinking about how I missed the natural life I lived there, and how it affected the relationship i had with the animals I worked with. The lessons it taught me. You can’t control Africa. You can’t fit the wildness of it safely into a crime-free, safe suburb, best school district, corporate ladder packaged life. The only thing predictable is the lack of circumstantial control. In the USA, it is a giant inconvenience if an espresso machine at Starbucks is broken, making us coffee-less and 10 min late for our routine self-important life. Meanwhile in South Africa, an entire reel of overhead power lines get stolen, no one in 50 miles has power, and yet “a boer maak n plan”. Or as the military would say “adapt and overcome.”

I started learning to train working K9s using all of the traditional methods. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the untraditional genetics. Out of 500 dogs bred for work, maybe 1/5th would be strong enough to pass all the tests. They were tested in their totally raw genetic state, prior to any training. Would they work through a bomb blast? Would they bite and not let go, even when being beaten? Do they have nerves of steel, courageous hearts, and the pain tolerance of a Spartan? These anomalies sit and look at you with adoring eyes. They are like every other dog - but they’re not. A pinch collar will bring your 90 lbs pet Shepherd to its knees and it will respect that painful correction enough so the next correction will be barely painful but just a reminder of what could happen. Walaaa! Your dog is “trained”. But these anomalies say “fuck your training - I’ll see your pinch collar and raise you a shock collar.” And before you know it, you’re hanging a dog by a pinch collar while it’s holding onto a cement block and you pray it doesn’t let go (even though you want it to let go) because you know it’s going to bite you next. And I’m not exaggerating.

My years living as a K9 trainer in South Africa ended up being a nerve-wracking juxtaposition between the need to crush wildness into little broken pieces and glue it back together as a trained dog, and the understanding that you can truly never crush something wild. Not for real. In a moment of human weakness or error it will be wild again. And it will turn on the one who crushes it. This is often referred to as “coming up the leash.”

I was given my first horse in South Africa - he was a racing Thoroughbred that had injured his hock. I didn’t even know how to mount a saddle. We had a shitty relationship for a long time. I constantly tried to control him. Then one day I had a few beers, wrapped a dog leash around his halter, jumped on his back and rode him into the African bush. He saw an open cattle field and did what Thoroughbreds do - he tossed his head back and ran. I hung onto his mane with all of my strength. At the end of the field he approached the electric cattle fence and came to a screeching halt. I flipped over his head and landed hard. He nuzzled my face and nickered as if to say “wasn’t that fun!”

That’s when I learned. I still sucked at riding him, but I learned to love him, and all his wild. I read Pat Parelli’s book “Natural Horsemanship” and I read Karen Pryor’s “Don’t Shoot The Dog” and I never looked back.

Now when I get the chance to work with the weirdos, I can’t wait to get to the point of untraining. That magical place where we can have a partnership. Where the trust resides and the animal allows a constant flow of information and renegotiation of boundaries. Because the animal trusts that learning is safe and performs his tasks as part of a partnership. I learn from every dog I work with. Just like Africa, the only thing predictable about an animal is the lack of control we have over it. But boer maak n plan. When I can adapt and help an animal overcome - in that moment of untraining - then the teaching starts to happen. And i get that specific feeling that is reserved only for the moments that I feel my heart racing beside the heart of the thoroughbred, or my feet plodding beside the running dog pack. I don’t know what to call this feeling except oneness with the wild.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Expatriates struggle to make ends meet as hardship bites

Expatriates struggle to make ends meet as hardship bites
Kuwait Times
By Chidi Emmanuel

It is always a solemn moment whenever Tina comes home and doesn’t see her six-year-old daughter Rosaline. “Life without her is just empty,” she said as she narrated her ordeal. According to Tina, life went from bad to worse when her husband lost his well-paid job last year. “Things became very hard for us. We could neither pay Rosie’s school fees nor get her a nanny. So we decided to send her to my mother in Ghana. My husband is just managing as a sales representative and I am working in a salon. To keep Rosie here (in Kuwait), we need at least a studio apartment, an affordable school for her, renew her residency, etc. These are luxuries we cannot afford right now. I miss her a lot,” Tina lamented.

In spite of the financial opportunities of living in Kuwait, foreign workers are struggling to cope with the high cost of living. Some expats are seeking ways to readjust to the harsh realities. These include moving to smaller apartments, sharing apartments, sending their families home and other cost-cutting measures. Another area that people find difficult are expenses related to raising children, as the overall cost of bringing up a child gets higher and higher every day.

With inflation at its highest level, driven primarily by rising housing and utility costs, a lot of expats said they spend more on accommodation and groceries these days. From Fahaheel to Salmiya, there seems to be an unusual trend as most newly-completed apartment buildings remain empty. In some buildings in Maboula and Sabah Al-Salem, caretakers (haris) are offering one month’s rent free in a bid to woo tenants. “I got a good bargain. At least the haris waived a month’s rent (KD 250) for me – that’s why we moved to Maboula,” said Ruth Kadri, another Ghanaian expat.

As companies struggle with slower business and authorities impose more fees on foreigners, Kuwait’s economy is losing some of its luster for expats who once flocked to the country. According to a recent report, the number of foreign workers dropped by around 0.3 percent in recent months. The good times for foreign workers in Kuwait, who for decades lived tax-free amid hugely subsidized utilities, may well and truly be over. The government has increased healthcare costs for expatriates. Unlike in the past, the health ministry is now passing the high costs of medical 
operations, equipment, medicines, laboratories and various medical supplies to expat patients.

Public hospitals and polyclinics in Kuwait are now collecting increased fees for services offered to expatriates. The new fees include KD 5 for visiting the emergency department at the general hospital; KD 10 for visiting outpatient clinics; KD 10 per day for inpatients; KD 30 for a stay in the intensive care unit (ICU); KD 50 for a private room and KD 200 as deposit, etc. As for maternity cases, KD 10 will be collected from patients per visit, in addition to KD 50 for a normal delivery.

A tax-free income is one of the key benefits of living and working in Kuwait, but with changing financial circumstances, some foreign workers have decided to leave Kuwait for good. Expatriate salaries and benefits used to allow people to live a luxurious life and still save. But over the past few years, spikes in costs have taken away the feel-good factor from their lives.

Adams has sent his family back to Canada. “Things are not the same anymore here. I really can’t cope with the high cost of living here,” he said during a sendoff party his friends organized for him. “First, I had to move from a three-bedroom to a two-bedroom and eventually to a one-bedroom apartment, but still there are school fees and medical bills to pay, which have skyrocketed over the last few years. At this point, I couldn’t manage it anymore, so I had to let them go,” he said in dismay.

Most expats in Kuwait are now forced to tighten their budgets as prices of commodities, medical fees, etc have gone up, with core living expenses such as housing, education, medical expenses and transportation fees showing no sign of going down. Eighteen years ago, Khalil Faisal left his family in Bangladesh to move to Kuwait. “My salary of KD 120 remained the same. I could manage then, but I can’t now because of the high cost of living. It is better for me to be with my family than to waste my whole life here,” he said before he left Kuwait for good a few months ago.

Another family forced out due to the financial crisis was of Ahmed Ibrahim. Just like Khalil, Ahmed said he could hardly save any money in the past three years. He had no other option than to relocate his family (wife and two teenage children) to Egypt, where he plans to open a business. “At least I can afford to pay the children’s school fees in Egypt,” he said.

Recent months have seen a surge in layoffs as companies cut costs. “I was told to quit as part of cost-cutting measures. I was a longtime employee of the company.” These are the words of Indian expat Sachin Sahaj, one among a number of expats who had their employment terminated last month.
According to recent reports, work contracts of 3,140 non-Kuwaitis serving in the public sector have been cancelled in recent months, Chairman of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) Ahmad Al-Jassar said. These contracts have been invalidated as part of the state’s policy of replacing expatriates with nationals in the government sector. The dismissed personnel served in various ministries, government departments and independent bodies. Jassar affirmed that these workers have been laid off in line with the state’s policy of Kuwaitizing jobs in the sector, as stipulated by CSC decision 11/2017, which exempted jobs in health sector.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Please vote so my friend can get a small business grant for her shelter to re-home dogs from Kuwait

Please vote for my friend, Amy's, business to get a small business grant from FedEx. Amy is one of those angels who helps re-home tortured, neglected, abandoned dogs from Kuwait to homes in the US. She started her kennel for this very reason. It's a simple task - just click after opening the link HERE Thanks!

There are a few rescuers in Kuwait that work with organizations in the US to re-home dogs.  Why the US?  Because the procedures are easier for pets to be sent there.  Wings of Love flies the dogs to points in the US and from there they are taken to several shelters (like Amy's Blue Ridge Canine Services and shelters in Baltimore, New York and Washington DC).  ALL of them need financial assistance.  All are run by volunteers.

Don't forget the rescuers in Kuwait!  They constantly need cat/dog food, old blankets and towels, cleaning items, and of course, cash ( goes towards medical bills for hurt animals).