It’s tough enough to be a soldier in war-torn Afghanistan; little wonder many servicemen return home with post-traumatic stress disorder. Now imagine being a local dog, terrified and confused, with no way to understand the waking nightmare going on around you.
As if being a helpless, homeless creature in a war-torn country weren’t stressful enough, now imagine being captured and forced to fight other dogs for the amusement of the local police.
The stray and abandoned dogs of Afghanistan know this horrific confusion all too well. Luckily, however, there’s a group dedicated to rescuing them and finding them forever homes far from the chaos of combat: Nowzad Dogs. The nonprofit treats injured and sick strays, rehomes dogs with Afghan locals, assists serving soldiers in rescuing their four-legged buddies and bringing them home, and promotes animal welfare education through its clinic. “One day we hope to roll out our programs across most of Afghanistan,” promises Pen Farthing, ex-Green Beret Commando in the Royal Marines, whose profound compassion set him on a personal mission to fight for Afghanistan’s forgotten canines.
It all started in 2007, when the soldier rescued a magnificent mixed-breed he named Nowzad, after Now Zad, the remote part of Afghanistan where his troop was stationed. That distinguished dog is now a white-whiskered veteran of war who enjoys a peaceful, happy home life in England with Farthing and his girlfriend, Hannah.
Nowzad Dogs has made major strides in improving the lives of Afghanistan’s dog population. “We have now opened the only official animal shelter in the whole of Afghanistan, which also contains a small animal clinic,” Farthing says. “Locals bring animals in to us for treatment — they had nowhere to take them before.”
Thanks to Nowzad Dogs, spay-neuter is gaining a toehold in Afghanistan, as is the concept of responsible pet ownership. “We have started to roll out our humane trap-neuter-release program to reduce the out-of-control stray population, which in turn will reduce the cases of rabies,” Farthing explains. “Increased security in northern Afghanistan is allowing the Afghan people to make their own choices about life, and in some cases owning a dog is one of them!”
It was a lucky twist of fate for the dogs of Afghanistan when this soldier was deployed in their midst. “I just cannot bear to see people or animals suffer,” says Farthing, author of the just-published No Place Like Home: A New Beginning With the Dogs of Afghanistan, the brand-new sequel to his popular 2010 title One Dog at a Time: Saving the Strays of Afghanistan. “Getting dogs out of Afghanistan to England was not something we had planned at the start of our tour of duty, but once I had given those dogs a trust in humans and they had become my buddies, there was no way I could leave them behind.”
Nowzad and Tali were the first dogs who made it to safety thanks to Farthing’s intervention. Today, the duo live the good life with Farthing’s two other dogs. These brave survivors have made great strides adjusting to their new life.
“Both are as normal as pet dogs as we could possibly ask for,” Farthing says. “Going for a walk is a different story though. When seeing a dog on the other side of the road, Nowzad suddenly thinks he is back to his old days as an angry, young feral dog. But then his body reminds him that he is actually nearly 10 or 11 years old.”
“Tali is a darling little dog that still wows the audience at our charity talks — she loves everybody. Her favorite thing to do is snuggle up to complete strangers — as long as they feed her, she’s quite happy. Both dogs enjoy the creature comforts of home life far too much now — even in our central-heated house, Nowzad wears his evening coat to keep out the cold!”
Just like any other dog anywhere in the world, these formerly traumatized canine survivors are creatures of habit. “They know their routine,” Farthing says. “Early morning door opens, and it’s out for a wee before breakfast is served. … Sometime around lunch, it’s out for a walk, and then an afternoon nap before evening dinner. … And then there’s the odd charity event thrown in just so they earn their keep!”
As for Farthing, the war hero (and Dogster hero) is busy earning his keep as a mountaineering instructor, juggling his job and his books with lots of travel to manage the charity he founded. “Once we secure proper funding, then hopefully I will become a full-time member of the Nowzad team — that is where my passion now lies,” he says.
“We don’t pay for advertising –- everything we have achieved has been by word of mouth,” he says. “Buying our books and reading our ‘tails’ would also support our work. All the stories of our current rescues can be found on our web site — bring tissues,” he cautions, “as they can get quite emotional!”
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