We lived in Saudi Arabia - in Jeddah - for four years and I don't remember seeing anyone walking a dog in all that time. It was hard enough to get yourself down the irregular sidewalks, in the heat, much less walk a dog. It was definitely not a walking city.
But we had some friends, Ingrid and Pete Pedersen with their sons Peter and Christian, who were real dog people and probably did walk their dog Omar, especially since they lived in a high rise apartment. Omar was a saluki, the breed with slim greyhound-like bodies that are native to Arabia. They were the royal dog of Egypt, where their pictures grace tombs dating back to 2100 B.C. and their bodies have been found mummified. Somehow the Pedersens had acquired a strutting male they named Omar, and he became their beloved family dog.
When the Pedersens went home to Denmark for a month-long vacation they entrusted Omar to us. We had a house with a yard surrounded by a high concrete wall so we didn't need to walk him. Then about a week into his stay, I came home and found the gate open - and Omar gone. Repairmen and delivery people came and went regularly so it could have been anyone. What mattered was that the Pedersens' beloved pet was at large in an unfriendly city in a culture not known for its affection toward dogs.
We searched the streets, on foot and by car, that day and for a week afterward; we even ran an unprecedented advertisement in the Arab News offering a reward. When the Pedersens returned they were broken-hearted, and we continued to drive through Jeddah with our eyes scanning the dusty streets for a lonely, lost saluki.
One day a few months later, a friend spotted Omar! He was in a vacant lot where young boys were kicking a soccer ball and otherwise hanging out. Omar would not come when the friend called so he quickly drove to the Pedersens and they returned to confront Omar, who was acting quite skittish and unfriendly. It broke their hearts to think of the hardships he had endured on the streets to warrant this change of behavior. They finally coaxed him into the car and returned home with him. Ingrid told me later that he was shaking in the elevator.
The boys welcomed him home with hugs of joy, and they all fed and admired him. When things settled down, Ingrid began to groom him, brushing his fur to clean away the dust that had accumulated and checking for ticks and fleas. She rolled him onto his back - and stared in amazement. Omar, their un-neutered saluki, was missing his male parts. This dog was not a male; it was not Omar.
We still chuckle over how this poor clueless stray, accustomed to life on the streets of Jeddah, had suddenly been swooped up and taken into the lives of the Pedersen family, into a car and an elevator and an apartment for the first time in her life. But now they had another problem: What should they do with this other, female dog? They didn't want to just dump it back at the lot. And they were a dog-loving family without a dog. So they adopted this dog, and renamed her Omega. The veterinarian in town told them she was about 3 years old and apparently had had a litter at some point.
The Pedersens left Jeddah about the same time we did and moved to the Costa del Sol. When we visited them, there was Omega, lying comfortably on an expensive Persian carpet like the beloved family member she had become. Ingrid said Omega never lost the nervousness she'd developed on the streets but we took long walks with her in the Spanish countryside.
And Omar? I like to think he wandered into the courtyard of an Arabian prince who befriended him and provided him with a home and love and affection. But only Allah knows for sure.
-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.