The lads of 5 Troop, Kilo Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines arrived in the war torn town of Now Zad in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan in November 2006. Their mission was to provide stability for the local people during a period of ever decreasing security.
And as one of the Royal Marines – Sergeant “Pen Farthing” was soon to realise, it wasn’t only the local people that needed their help. For some of the many stray dogs of Now Zad they now had a guardian for the first time in their lives.
Pen takes up the story….“When we first arrived in the town of Now Zad I broke up a dog fight that was taking place right outside our remote compound. What I didn’t know was that one of those fighting dogs would then befriend me! I couldn’t say no to those big sad eyes, the now very former fighting dog, became my buddy and found himself a name – Nowzad”.
Soon the first ever dog warden of Now Zad, was looking after two more dogs “RPG” and “Jena”, strays that were very under nourished and didn’t look like they would survive the onslaught of the approaching Afghan winter.
Unbelievably they then gained “Tali” who crept in under the gate carrying 6 little puppies followed by an injured “AK” bringing up the rear. And then to complicate matters “Jena” had 8 puppies as well – life was just a little busy at the best of times in the compound that the Marines called home for nearly three months in the heart of the Taliban tribal belt.
In a quiet corner of the base Pen and two fellow Marines Dave & John built the dogs a modest dog run of sorts and for added safety a mortar shelter was also included for the dogs to hide in, which luckily also provided some warmth during the extreme cold of the long winter nights.
The dogs went from scavenging food one day to eating two decent meals a day courtesy of the left over military rations that the Royal Marines didn’t eat!
Pen had already decided that he was going to try and get the dogs to a better life. But being stuck in the small town of Now Zad he had very limited communications with the outside world. With help back in the UK they managed to track down an animal rescue centre in the far north of the country.
As Pen explains “So the difficult task of persuading a local Afghanistan driver to take the dogs all the way to the rescue in the north – a journey of several days – began. Eventually we found a taxi that would take the dogs some of the way to Lashkar Gar and then they would be exchanged with another driver for the journey to Kandahar and then swapped yet again into another vehicle for the drive to the rescue. We had a few issues with this as we knew that the vehicles would be stopped by the Taliban at road blocks and for that reason the driver wouldn’t let us put the dogs in cages, (a very British thing to do – definitely not an Afghan method of transporting dogs), so we had to tie the dogs up with rope and put the puppies into small crates, (Jena’s puppies went into an old bird cage!), not something we were entirely comfortable with – but what else we were to do?
I knew if the vehicle doors were opened without the driver paying attention then there was a chance one or two of the dogs would escape…”
When the vehicle left for the epic journey carrying the dogs of Now Zad that had been, for the last three months, a source of comfort for some of the lads and had given them a sense of achieving something positive, the feeling of whether they had done the right thing was at the front of their minds. Not knowing what would happen to the dogs next was only slightly comforted by the fact that if they had left the dogs in Now Zad death would probably come sooner rather than later from starvation or cold. They might even have succumbed to one of the frequent attacks by the Taliban.
Travelling to the rescue had at least given the dogs a shot at a safe and cared for life. It was something the Royal Marines were willing to risk. Living in Now Zad was no life for the dogs.
Finally via a phone call from back home the lads found out the fate of the dogs; Tali, Jena and Nowzad and 13 of the 14 puppies had made the animal rescue. RPG and AK had escaped when the car door was left open. One of the puppies had been stolen.
The Royal Marines’ celebrations were tainted with sadness. They had no idea where RPG and AK had escaped and there was no way they could go looking for them.
Dog owners the world over heard of the determination and compassion that Pen, Dave and John has shown in their attempts to rescue the dogs and so the charity Nowzad Dogs was formed during May 2007. The charity is registered in the UK – number 1119185.
The charity is mostly run by volunteers with the sole aim of improving the welfare of the animals of Afghanistan; especially the dog population. This aim is to be achieved through education of the local people of Afghanistan. Without their support and understanding then we have no hope. Afghanistan is a country full of potential. The Mayhew Animal Home in London supports a vets training scheme for participants from developing countries and the Nowzad Dogs charity fully supports it. Through the fantastic support of donors to Nowzad Dogs we are continually striving to support the many cries for help we receive from servicemen and women that have against orders taken in a stray puppy or rescued a dog or cat from cruelty.
The charity supported the funding of Jena during her journey to the US to be re-homed within a loving family and for Nowzad and Tali to join Pen in the UK. What nobody expected was the overnight celebrity that Nowzad and Tali would become.
As Pen explains.. “It seems so unreal that just a few months ago in one of the most dangerous places on earth, I would find Nowzad hiding under a camp bed while the Taliban mortared us or be surprised as he plunked himself down next to me while I was cleaning my rifle. At times I had no idea how I would facilitate transporting the dogs to the safety of the rescue, to be honest I thought it was just an out of reach fantasy.
Not for one minute did I ever expect or think that one day I would be sat in an old store in the depths of Battersea cats and dogs home, having make up applied (tell anybody and I’ll find you!), waiting to be interviewed by Celina Scott about how we managed to orchestrate the rescue of Nowzad, Tali and Jena to loving homes on live television as guests on the Animal Rescue Live show along with Joy from the Mayhew Animal Home and after the fantastic video introduction put together by the BBC camera team we were invited onto the bench to be interviewed by Celina.
The video had been shot a few weeks before at the quarantine centre and Nowzad played his part well – not eating any of the camera crew and looking all sweet and innocent – if only they knew!
Although we only had a few minutes of airtime it went really well and I hope we managed to get the message across!”
The news of the two four legged Afghan refugees spread and to cap it all during March 2008 Nowzad & Tali were selected for the “Friends for Life” award as finalists along with their adopted owner Pen. So a trip to the NEC in Birmingham to appear along with the other finalists at Crufts in the main arena was booked for the 9th March 2008. Pen was not sure that Nowzad & Tali would cope well with the pressure and noise of the main arena at Crufts so training sessions were the order of the day, which with the help of a local dog training group went extremely well to everybody’s surprise. Queuing up for the main arena was a bit nerve racking but Nowzad & Tali were as good as gold, (as long as they were kept occupied with small smelly treats!).
Then the time came to stroll out looking calm and collected into the main arena with all the noise and lights. Were Nowzad and Tali worried?
Not in the slightest.
The two former Afghan strays were brilliant and took it all in their stride. Just a shame the BBC only put about 2 minutes of the actual “Friends for Life” final on the TV – Nowzad and Tali were in the ring for over 15 minutes! A big thank you to all who voted for us, rumour has it that that Nowzad & Tali almost won!
The charity is growing at a steady rate, our mailing list of supporters is increasing daily and the charity has had fantastic assistance from dog owners the world over who have offered their time in promoting the charity and its aims. We have also seen a steady increase in the demand for information from Service men and woman that need help with a stray dog or cat that has found its way into their lives. Nowzad and Tali have also now been immortalised in writing in the inspiring book of their story that has been described as a cross between ‘Marley and Me’ and ‘Bravo Two Zero’. ONE DOG AT A TIME describes the epic challenge of attempting to rescue two Afghan strays to their new forever homes thousands of miles away. Published by Ebury Press it can be brought here.
Help us to support these programs as well as the rescues by buying a copy of Pen’s book’s ‘One Dog at a Time’ and ‘No Place like Home’.
In late 2009 Nowzad Dogs took over the role of the Baghdad Animal Rescue organisation that was operating in Iraq, gaining the experience of its founder Louise. Serving as a contractor deep in northern Iraq in 2005 Louise could not bear to ignore the plight of the feral cats around her. The urge to give a decent life to a dying kitten thrust into her arms inside a bin bag was too much and Simba Al Tikriti the kitten, after being treated with human antibiotics, became the first of many cats and dogs to be saved by the self-confessed animal rescue machine.
Today the charity is operating at full capacity – assisting with the rescues of companion animals is still our core work but now the charity is also looking at methods of promoting animal welfare including humane options for dealing with the out of control stray dog population.
Please look around the Nowzad website for details of all our projects and for ways you can make a difference for the strays of Afghanistan.
For up to date information on all that is happening within the charity please click on our news page and remember to check out Pen’s video of his visit to the shelter here.
If you have an idea to promote the charity or want to help (even if just to display a poster for us) then please let us know!
We couldn’t walk away – we hope you won’t either!