The end of an era.. saying goodbye to Arnhem

Nowzad was born as a charity to support coalition soldiers serving in Afghanistan to be reunited with the stray dogs and cats they adopted on the front lines. When the west abandoned Afghanistan in August 2021, all western soldiers were withdrawn immediately and so all soldier companion animal rescues that Nowzad undertook stopped overnight.

That era of our important work that we had undertaken for 14 years was at an end. And the original dogs who paved the way for the hundreds that followed are now all gone after being loved within a family home like Pen had never even contemplated when he started Nowzad.

Arnhem dog was the last of the originals. There were more than a few tears amongst the Nowzad team at the news.

Arnhem out lived Nowzad, Tali and Fubar. British soldier Ben, who rescued him all those years ago, gives a heart wrenching goodbye.

My boy

Fifteen years, six months and one day ago you stopped a convoy of Pathfinder Platoon armoured vehicles dead in their tracks when one of the Platoon members spotted you by the side of the road, abandoned and vulnerable. No more than a couple of days old, what happened to your mother and siblings will always be a mystery. You were brought back to Camp Bastion and dumped by my bed in a cardboard box in the middle of the night with no explanation. I had just returned from ‘R n R’ so wasn’t on this patrol. When I woke, I had the shock of my life when I saw a little wriggly puppy in the box. You couldn’t yet walk or see properly. We fed you milk and Weetabix and made you a ‘kennel’ but took you in at night so a cat wouldn’t get you. At every opportunity, one of the soldiers had you in their arms, which explains why you were so soppy for cuddles and strokes for the rest of your life. The day you were found was the anniversary of a World War 2 Parachute Regiment battle honour, so naturally you were named ‘Arnhem’.

You were so small that an Army vet who agreed to check over our contraband puppy mistook you for a female and it wasn’t until you were in Kabul that this mistake was realised. But we had to get you there, and then home: enter Pen Farthing and Nowzad Dogs, whose rescues at this point were still in single figures. We tied in with a very unhelpful dentist who had two other puppies being rescued called Wylie and Juno, but thanks to a very helpful RAF aircrew and a local lorry driver, we got you to Kandahar Air Base and then onwards to the Nowzad Dogs animal sanctuary in Kabul. Dogs aren’t supposed to travel to the UK until they are at least one year old, but Pen worked his magic and got you back to the UK before Christmas when you were four months at most. There were several of us from that group who looked after you in Afghanistan, who would have happily taken you home once back in the UK, but it was decided that I would be the lucky one. I was reunited with you a few times during your quarantine. One of Wylie or Juno had died and the other had contracted a disease which affected their legs and the unhelpful dentist never turned up to collect his remaining dog after all that anyway. But you came through unscathed, with me waiting to collect you as you turned about eleven months old, and one of the quarantine staff adopted the other dog in the end.

I was still a young soldier with my next Afghanistan tour soon approaching, so you moved in with my mum and her chocolate labrador of a similar age to you, Eddie. As much as we tried to avoid it, you had a fight with him soon after moving in (you started it) but it was OK because it established the pecking order, and he soon became your best (and probably only) dog friend. You had to eat fast around Eddie otherwise you would lose your food – this rule applied to humans as well as you – but this didn’t stop you teasing him with your bones/treats that you would take your time savouring  rather than devouring them immediately like Eddie had his. You walked a lot, particularly in the local woods. When K came on the scene a year later, she convinced me to let you off  lead in there to test your recall. Needless to say, that experiment was never conducted ever again. Your worst attribute as a young dog was your tendency to bark aggressively at most other dogs, particularly if they were bigger and/or male. Combined with the fact that you had zero recall, you were never allowed off the lead. In your later years, you had become more docile and very slow, so on occasion you were allowed a bit more freedom, although you would still always end up pushing your luck too far at some point! When at home you were normally found ‘on stag’ in front of Mum’s big windows, ready to let us know whenever another dog or a motorbike or any of your other sworn enemies walked past.

You were agile as a young dog: you could jump almost any dog gate and would stand on your two back legs if you spied a squirrel up a tree, however when you jumped out of a first storey window at camp, fortunately you lived to regret it. I left you with a friend one afternoon and I guess you had no perception of height at that point which is why you launched yourself out of the window. Somehow you came out of it with nothing but a graze under your chin so the Paras would definitely have been proud. You completely avoided water where possible and appeared quite aloof at first with new people, although were never shy in coming over and scratching someone to get their attention if you wanted a stroke. You were often more like a cat than a dog! You could not abide anybody touching your front two paws and would wriggle out of any hold if we tried to groom those two paws. Although you disliked most other dogs/squirrels/cats/rabbits, you were completely friendly to all humans. You never ever so much as growled at a person, and you were brilliant with children. Our nephews and nieces adored you, often cuddling into you or even dressing you up. You moulted, oh boy, you moulted. I have no idea how much fur over the years me or K have had to clear up from you, but I know I will still be finding it around the house in decades to come.

When you were seven, I moved into my own house with K and you came to stay with us permanently. Perhaps you missed Eddie, but you certainly revelled in your own space and enjoyed taking more time with your food! You made a work friend, a nervous cockapoo called Henry, who was really friendly, but would scare quite easily if you played too boisterously with him. We lived in four different houses in the same town, including your final one, but you adapted well to each one, enjoying new walks in all of the different locations. There were generally two types of walk we went on, my favourite, where we strode purposely from A to B, getting plenty of miles in, and your favourite, where we spent an age sniffing each and every blade of grass and scenting on it too. We did many trips to the beach, plus a few holidays together as a trio. We really were inseparable. On our wedding day, you were star of the show. My uncle sneaked you into the church, you really were so laidback and well behaved that it was easy to do, and then you were front and centre for most of the rest of the day. I even got a walk in with you that evening.

From around twelve years old you started to slow down considerably as age caught up with you. There were a few serious health scares, mainly the huge cancerous lump that grew on your left hind leg. We were still childless and couldn’t bear the thought of our new dream house empty without even you pitter pattering around. Pen had to evacuate the remainder of the dogs from Kabul and we asked to be considered for Reba. Predominately due to our track record with you, who had recently become the oldest surviving Nowzad Dog, we were chosen to become Reba’s new owners. She was not an easy dog to assimilate into our home and life, but we are so glad we persevered. We thought she was going to be another you – how wrong we were! There are obviously some similarities (including the moulting!) but she is so much more high energy than you ever were and needs much more close attention than you did too. But you did well to accept her, especially at your advanced age – although bones were banned indefinitely in this house to remove a major source of tension between you both – but despite your relationship at times appearing more based on tolerance than genuine affection, I know that she is going to miss her adopted pack brother deeply.

Reba seemed to give you a second lease of life too. Walks upped again as a result, they had to, to satisfy her. You beat the tumour the first time through surgery and when it grew back even larger eighteen months later, you defied the odds by not only surviving a second surgery but also proving wrong the vet who said your leg would be a withered, useless thing after that. In fact, you got me in trouble with them after you managed to jump onto the sofa that very night despite me building a fortress around the sofa to stop you carrying out that very action. Despite your recovery afterwards, it did seem apparent that each surgery seemed to sap some of the life out of you though, and we swore that we wouldn’t put you through that again at your age.

So, you put up with the arrival of Reba and then a year later you had to contend with another even more disruptive arrival! I am so glad you got to spend fifteen months on this Earth with our daughter, old boy. I know she sometimes terrorized you, pulling you and prodding you, but you showed your characteristic patience with her, especially after you became too slow to get out of the way when you saw her coming! But it means so much that you saw me through into this next phase of my life. When you first arrived in my life, I wasn’t far into adulthood myself or my army career, but I was learning how to soldier in some pretty harsh conditions and having to grow up fast in some respects. You saw me meet and marry the love of my life, mature (eventually) into the person I am today: an experienced soldier nearly at the end of his career who has changing priorities and totally new goals from a decade and a half ago. You were there for my most important milestone of all: becoming a father. You have been my best friend for fifteen years, six months and one day and I will never forget you, my beautiful boy.

Rest easy Arnhem.

The end of an era.. saying goodbye to Arnhem