Afghan veterans, dogs of war linked by Kabul clinic

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Afghan veterans, dogs of war linked by Kabul clinic

Post by Trooper on Mon Dec 04, 2017 7:18 am

Retired Canadian naval officer Isabelle Allard brought Thor home after deployment in southern Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. Allard says stray dogs at military bases were ad hoc therapy animals. "It's easier to go see the dog who says nothing," she says.

By ALLAN WOODS --- Quebec Bureau
Mon., Dec. 4, 2017

Soldier, aid workers adopting strays taken in by Afghanistan’s first animal shelter, which is operated by a charity started by a British soldier.

A stray dog in southern Afghanistan was the emotional balm that got a British soldier, Sgt. Pen Farthing, through a seven-month deployment a decade ago in the remote village of Now Zad.

But when it came time to return to England, the Royal Marine officer organized a stealth operation to smuggle the animal, nicknamed Nowzad, out of Helmand province to Kabul and from the Afghan capital to England.

Abandoning the canine to the conflict was not an option.

“I’d just sit there and stroke the top of his head and I could pretend that I wasn’t in Afghanistan,” Farthing recalled in an interview from Kabul.

“I realized after I’d been with him for several months and he had helped me get through this tour of duty that I was going to have to throw him back out on the streets . . . I could not just leave him behind.”

He set out to provide the same assistance to other soldiers once he was back on British soil. Farthing created a charity — named Nowzad, in honour of that first dog — which operates the country’s first dog and cat shelter. It also operates a veterinary clinic in Kabul that employs and trains Afghan veterinarians.

But Nowzad’s impact can also be felt half a world away by western soldiers, civilians and regular dog lovers whose hearts have been captured by Afghanistan’s stray animals and who brought the animals into their homes in Canada, the U.S. and Britain.

In many cases, the dogs and cats have wandered into besieged combat outposts and captured the hearts and minds of coalition troops. In 2011, a 24-year-old American army cook in Afghanistan died of rabies contracted from a dog bite in Afghanistan.

In its annual report to the U.K. Charity Commission, Nowzad claims to have arranged for vaccination, neutering and travel for more than 1,000 dogs to seven different countries.

Isabelle Allard, a retired naval officer who lives near CFB Trenton, adopted Thor, who was one of four dogs living at the combat outpost in Masum Ghar during a 2010 deployment to Kandahar.

The decision was made under duress, following orders to destroy all the stray animals. She contacted Nowzad, which arranged for a local man to pick up the dog and transport it by bus to Kabul.

“I was crying so badly because I didn’t know if I was going to see him alive again. With the Afghan people and dogs, it’s not a big love story,” she said.

Afghan veterinarians Dr. Maliha, left, Dr. Tahera and Dr. Malalai work with the Nowzad animal clinic in Kabul, Afghanistan. Nowzad was created by a former British soldier, Pen Farthing, to deal with the problem of stray and rabid animals in the war-torn country. It also helps to shuttle out of the country Afghan animals who have been informally adopted by western soldiers.

It was different with Thor, who was first obtained by a Canadian reservist from the Afghan police in exchange for a case of water. Thor lived at the Masum Ghar base with soldiers from CFB Petawawa before Allard took him on, administering the rabies vaccination and even having a blue dog blanket and dog food sent over from Canada.

But Thor also gave back, protecting the base from jackals and hyenas and serving as an emotional outlet for soldiers.

“You’re scared even if no one says so because there are roadside bombs everywhere and everything is booby trapped,” Allard said. “Those who wanted to talk would sometimes come to see the medics, but it’s easier to go see the dog who says nothing.”

Onne de Boer, a civilian military contractor from Fredericton, N.B., near CFB Gagetown, has taken in four Afghan rescue dogs over several years.

“This is a way that we can help those animals, a way that we can help the soldiers who decide to try and rescue an animal from Afghanistan and give those cats and dogs a better life,” de Boer said.

It is a complex and costly endeavour, and Nowzad relies almost entirely on donations.

It costs about $5,000 to fly de Boer’s dogs from Kabul to Dubai, Dubai to Europe and Europe to Canada. On top of the airfare, there are kennel fees incurred at each layover.

Onne de Boer, a military contractor from New Brunswick, has adopted Serac, Wonder and Murphy through the Afghanistan-based animal charity Nowzad.

The Afghan dogs tend to carry mental scars of the conflict. They are more alert than other dogs and sensitive to loud noises.

Farthing recalled the warning sounds of incoming mortar fire alerting him and his fellow soldiers to a Taliban assault.

“We could handle that because we knew what was happening but I knew that these dogs were absolutely petrified, and after an attack it would take a couple of hours for them to stop shaking,” he said.

Even today, Farthing turns up the volume on the television or radio and shuts the curtains tight when there are fireworks in his hometown of Essex to protect his current Afghan rescue dog, Tali.

The echoes from the firing range that reach Allard’s home on humid days put Thor on alert. And one of de Boer’s dogs, Murphy, reacts to low-flying helicopters, particularly large Chinook CH-147 aircraft, coming to and from CFB Gagetown.

“I think there are some memories of things that have gone on but it hasn’t been a difficult thing for us with the dogs that we’ve had,” he said.

The adopted dogs get respite and western comforts in leaving Afghanistan, but they also bring benefits to war-weary soldiers.

Farthing said that operating his charity, which employs three female Afghan veterinarians, trains students and contributes to public health by tackling the spread of rabies, gives him a sense of achievement.

“The marine part was helping to stabilize the country, but now I feel like I’m finishing the job I started 10 years ago.”

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