I have been more than a little moved over the past 24 – 48 hours by the plight of Pen Farthing and the Nowzad animal rescue team in Afghanistan. They appeared in the news several weeks ago with Pen Farthing, a former British marine who served in Afghanistan, saying he would not leave the country without his staff and animals.
The charity was started in 2007 when Farthing helped to break up a dog fight. One of the dogs followed him back to base and formed a friendship with Pen. I can imagine having a companion animal in a war zone would be a source of comfort.
Animals are treated poorly in Afghanistan as is painfully clear in Wylie’s book: Wylie the Brave Street Dog Who Never Gave Up. Wylie had been used in dog fighting and had his ears and tail cut off. Apparently this is what they do to fighting dogs. He was later beaten by locals and even deliberately thrown in front of an SUV in an attempt by locals to provoke a reaction from troops. In our mistreatment of animals, humans are despicable. Somehow Wylie survived and was adopted by a woman in the UK where his life improved significantly.
Fast-forward to this week and Farthing managed to get 200 cats and dogs all the way to Kabul airport. Private donors in the UK had arranged a charter flight for him, his staff, and the animals to fly to the UK where they’d all been cleared for passage.
They got to the airport perimeter and were there when the bomb went off but couldn’t get inside due to a change in rules 2 hours earlier.
After 15 hours of travel and waiting in the hot sun with 200 animals in crates on trucks they had to go back. I woke up on Friday morning to see Pen Farthing saying they had failed. I felt really sad for them and judging by Twitter I think half the UK felt the same. People love animals here and there’s nothing like an animal rescue to get emotions flying.
But then on Friday night the Ministry of Defence Press Office tweeted that they were back at the airport, having been assisted by UK armed forces.
This is great news indeed. As far as I’m aware they have left the country but sadly, only Farthing and the animals. The staff have had to remain in Afghanistan for now.
In some ways I imagine it is easier to get dogs and cats out of a war torn region than refugees because dogs and cats don’t need passports and visas. I suspect, although I don’t know, this is why the staff have been unable to leave so far. Refugees need to be assessed and processed then accommodation organised by the local authority at the other end. No tax payers are paying for accommodation for dogs and cats or the flight so these hurdles are bypassed. Dogs and cats simple don’t have the same level of paperwork although I imagine they’ll have to go through quarantine before arriving in Britain.
People might question why animals are being put before people and I would ask them why they think humans are superior to animals? “In suffering the animals are our equals” (stealing a quote from Peter Singer here). It’s worth pointing out also that animals go in the cargo hold of a commercial aircraft where humans do not go.
My only reservation is how big a loss it is for Afghanistan to lose Pen Farthing and Nowzad. It’s not just the local animals that lose out but also the local people who found employment with the charity and donations to the charity would have been a good thing for the local economy. They were also a source of education on animal welfare that will leave a big hole. As Gandhi once said,
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.