We are super pleased to publish the winners of the FIRST EVER Nowzad writing competition! Thank you to everyone who donned their thinking caps - put pen to paper and sent us their ‘tail’ - our team really did enjoy reading through them all! We hope you enjoy reading the winning three entries posted below!
So in third place;
Leo’s Crooked Tale by Renee Brunelle
Leo was born in Afghanistan with the given name of Leonidas which means “son of the lion”. When just a young puppy his tail was stepped on by a horse, so it had a bend in it ever since. Leo was a gentle soul and more of a lover and not a fighter. Often many dogs in the Middle East are bred to fight and in fact Leo’s bloodline has fought bears for entertainment over decades.
So as a puppy his original owner was Mo who worked as an Interpreter for the Americans. Leo was given to FOB Salerno Military Base before his lifelong owner and friend Major Travis Brunelle arrived. Not all military people were kind to him as a puppy, but once Travis arrived Leo just knew he had found his new daddy. Late one night, Leo was barking up a storm so my husband went to investigate. Well Leo came out with a porcupine quill stuck into his forehead the size of a pencil! Travis and his friend Scott pulled the quill out and he was back to being a happy puppy. I often think about the childhood book the “Lion and the thorn” with a smile.
I remember the first conversation with Travis about Leo. Something in his voice told me whatever it would take I needed to find a way to bring this dear dog home. With some online research I luckily found NOWZAD DOGS. They were an answer to my prayers but there was one catch. We needed to come up with enough money to cover their overhead in getting Leo home. Travis started “Leo’s Freedom Fund” on Facebook and within two weeks we had all the money we needed. Eventually we found out one of our biggest donors lived an hour from us and became Leo’s Godmother.
After a bit more dialogue, NOWZAD shared that Travis had to get Leo from his Base to one of the major cities to prepare for transport. Luckily, my husband was a Green Beret able to make that happen. Deep down I believe it was harder for Travis to leave Leo that day then when leaving me for deployments.
Next challenge was that someone had to clear Customs in the US, but I needed to be in Tampa for his final destination. Two of Travis’ old Army buddies were living in Atlanta and were able to take care of that and Leo was off to Florida. A few months later Travis returned to a full house of wagging tails included his favorite crooked one!
In September of 2016, Travis passed away unexpectedly. Somehow Leo knew and we took him to visit the coffin so we could confirm his daddy was not coming home. A few years later Leo passed too. I have no doubt that those two are together forever and look forward to both of their sweet kisses when it is my time.
In second place is;
AlfGanStan by Cathie Melling
“Right. Heads up, eyes bright. They’re here.” The large brown mongrel stood in front of a little black and brown pup and a black Labrador bitch, who sat to attention, wagging tails brushing the dry sand into clouds as three soldiers emerged from a tent and called them.
Four weeks earlier, these same men had rescued them from imminent death. The dogs had been trapped inside a bombed building and were weak from lack of water and food. The soldiers had taken them back to their encampment and shown them love and kindness, things they had never known in their short lives.
Today though, their smiles had gone Alf glanced worriedly at Ganny, “What is wrong? I wish we understood them.”
Ganny shook her head, “I don’t know but they have drops of water coming from their eyes.”
The men suddenly hugged the dogs so tightly, they could hardly breathe. Then they stood up and walked swiftly off without looking back.
Alf, Ganny and Stan stared at their retreating backs with sadness. Their friends had left them. Weeks passed. Then, one morning, new people appeared from a truck. They grabbed the dogs and pushed them into crates.
Ganny shouted to Alf and Stan. “Stay strong,” she cried, “I love you both.”
Fot hours, they bounced around in the back of the truck, barking to each other for comfort. At last the truck stopped. As they were lifted down, Alf sniffed through the wire grille of the crate. They were carried onto a big plane. The hatch closed.
“Is everyone OK?” the fear in Ganny’s bark was palpable. They growled back. Safe but frightened. As the plane took off, they sank into an exhausted sleep. After that, there was more noise, more people, more trucks. Eventually they found themselves inside a small building.
“Oh what now?” Alf sighed and peered out. Ganny turned towards his bark. “We’re still together. That’s something.”
Stan was silent, but every out breath was a whimper. As Ganny turned to comfort him, the door opened.
Three figures were silhouetted in the doorway. The dogs growled. They had had enough of this nightmare……..
For a moment, the world stood still. Then three familiar faces appeared in front of them. With a loud click, the grilles opened. As one, the dogs launched themselves at their soldiers.
The men sat back and hugged them. It was a fusion of laughter, talking, panting and barking.
Stan looked questioningly at his grandma. “This is good? Is this good? Ganny, they’ve got water dropping from their eyes again but it doesn’t feel like last time.”
Ganny and Alf looked at each other, then at the men, then back at Stan.
“I think,” said Alf, tail thumping, “that things are very good.”
Ganny sighed as she rested her head against her soldier, “I think, “ she agreed, “that things are very good indeed.
And our short story winner is..............................
The Gift by Pat King
I swept the floor and watched dust motes dance in the sunlight, in the mirror I saw a stranger staring at me and, fingering a wisp of
hair that escaped from under my hijab, realised the stranger was me.
I looked much older than 23; raising a child alone in a harsh, male dominated society had prematurely aged me. Once I was a beloved daughter, an adored wife but then my husband died and part of me was buried with him. When my in-laws talked of marrying me to a man who already had two unhappy wives, I scooped up my sleeping son and fled into the night.
Somehow we had survived, Hassan and me. We made our home in a small village on the outskirts of Kabul but life was hard, often I had to beg to buy food but at night, while Hassan slept, I worked intricate khamak embroidery to keep myself sane.
Suddenly, my reverie was interrupted when Hassan threw himself through the door, clutching a puppy. “They threw rocks at him and chased his mummy away," he cried. “Maybe his mummy will come back for him,” I said. Just then, my dear friend Soraya popped her head around the door. “What have we here?” she said. “We can't keep him,” I mouthed silently. “No,” she said, “but you can take him to Nowzad, the animal refuge.”
The pup’s mum did not return, so next morning we snuggled him inside Hassan’s coat and set off to find Nowzad. We knew we’d arrived when we heard myriad dogs barking. Zahra, a veterinarian, gently examined the pup. He was malnourished and too young to be apart from his mum but now he was safe. She thanked us for bringing him and, as we turned to leave, admired my embroidered shawl. “You are an accomplished needlewoman,” she said. Not being used to such praise, I blushed.
Zahra told us that, as well as cats and dogs, they rescue goats, donkeys even horses; teach people about animal welfare and educate children like Hassan about the ever present danger of rabies. But I was amazed to discover that they also help women like me through their Afghan Women Artisans for Animals scheme.
They pay a fair wage to women who make handicrafts, which are sold online to their supporters, and any profit goes toward the refuge and clinic. I was invited to join them, and that’s how I came to be part of the Nowzad family and relish the freedom of legitimately earning money. It gave us independence, a gift of immeasurable value, but that was not the only gift we received that day.
There was no way we could keep the puppy, we could not care for it properly but, as we chatted to Zahra, a tabby cat wove around our legs and into our hearts. I’d never had a pet, but when I picked her up and she purred with pleasure, I just knew she would be leaving with us.