The Taliban’s takeover of Kabul means that Nowzad – the non-profit that has spent nearly 15 years reuniting stray dogs with the soldiers who rescued them – no longer has a future in Afghanistan. That’s according to the organization’s founder, Pen Farthing, who now has a new mission: finding safe homes for his staff and close to 200 animals in their care.
Farthing was the 2014 CNN Hero of the Year. In 2006, he served in Afghanistan as a Royal Marine Commando. Speaking with CNN on August 12 ahead of the Taliban’s advance on Kabul, he questioned the sacrifice he and others made given the West’s rapid withdrawal.
“I lost two of my young Marines; five were seriously injured. And then you look at all the other soldiers who lost their lives serving here in Afghanistan, and you would have to say, ‘For what?’”
Since its founding in 2007, Nowzad has cared for more than 1,600 rescued animals and reunited them with soldiers. In the last five years, they provided training to some 500 veterinary students at their facilities. They also employ Afghan women as veterinarians and in other positions. Farthing says the women believed they had a future before the withdrawal, but “that has just been ripped apart.”
“We know obviously the Taliban of old never allowed women to go to school, not be educated, not to go to work, not to leave the home,” he said.
Now, Farthing is fighting to get all 25 of Nowzad’s staffers and their immediate families out of Afghanistan and onto a repatriation flight to the UK. He took to Facebook Live to make the case, pointing out that the UK is dealing with a shortage of veterinarians and support staff, and his team has animal rescue experience. He called on his followers to reach out to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and their local lawmakers to press them to help Nowzad’s team.
“Boris Johnson, if you happen to be on Facebook right now watching this, you need to make this happen. We truly created this mess in Afghanistan. … This could have been avoided, but it wasn’t. And I’m not leaving my staff to whatever the Taliban are going to do in the coming weeks.”
During Parliament’s emergency session on Afghanistan, MP Sara Britcliffe raised the issue of repatriating Nowzad’s team. Prime Minister Johnson responded:
“I think like many of us, I have been extensively lobbied on behalf of the excellent work done by Mr. Pen Farthing and I’m well aware of his cause and all of the wonderful things that he has done for animals in Afghanistan. I can tell my old friend that we will do everything that we can to help Mr. Pen Farthing and others who face particular difficulty.”
Farthing also fears for the future of animals with the Taliban in charge. During their previous rule, Farthing says they banned pet ownership as well as dogfighting, which was not for the animals’ welfare but because they believe dogs are unclean and people should not handle them.
Farthing has a relocation plan for 98 of their dogs and 88 cats. It’s called Operation Ark, and they plan to rent a cargo plane to fly the animals out of Afghanistan. He is not currently disclosing their destination, but once there, they are partnered with another animal welfare group to take charge of them. He’s working to raise $200,000 through Nowzad’s donation page to cover the costs.
Nowzad only has days left, Farthing estimated, before they need to abandon their location in Kabul. Their facilities include a dog shelter, animal clinic, and Afghanistan’s first donkey sanctuary. However, not all the animals can be included on the flight out of Kabul.
The donkeys are part of their working animal program and Farthing says they are unable to move them. So Nowzad is trusting their care to locals who know how to handle them while providing funds for their upkeep and welfare.
Sadly, Farthing says some dogs with severe injuries will need to be euthanized, while others who can survive on the streets will be released.
He described this moment as “the end of Nowzad as we know it.” But he is optimistic there is a future for the organization and the people of Afghanistan.
“I’m hoping that when all of this is over, we can still carry on and continue. Afghans will still need support. So, please, please … whether it’s looking after people in need, whether it’s animals in need, then please look out and check on all the organizations that hopefully will still be here in Afghanistan because they will need your support.”