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Briton committed to Afghan animals

As attention on Britain's involvement in Afghanistan turns to the draw-down of combat troops, some Britons are in the country to stay.

And for a small charity set up to help the country's animal population, the job is far from done.

The Nowzad Dogs charity was set up by former Royal Marine Sergeant Pen Farthing in 2007.

While serving in Nowzad in Helmand province in 2006, the 44-year-old broke up an organised dog fight, befriending one of the dogs and naming it after the town.

After the tough challenge of getting the charity started, he began a second to help other soldiers get their dogs back home.

Now a registered charity in England and Wales, Nowzad Dogs operates the only official animal shelter in Afghanistan, just outside Kabul, as well as a small clinic managed by Briton Louise Hastie.

The 41-year-old, who previously served in the Armed Forces, said they have already re-homed some 650 dogs to soldiers around the world, from the US and UK to Australia, Canada and even Africa, with more going to homes in Afghanistan.

But the charity also works to promote animal welfare and responsible pet ownership in Afghanistan.

Asked what would happen after the draw-down of UK combat troops, set to be completed by the end of this year, Miss Hastie said: "It's business as usual for us.

"But we're not here solely for the purpose of rescuing dogs for soldiers - that doesn't do anything for the community in Afghanistan.

"We need to work towards a long-term way of getting a humane reduction in population, a reduction in disease. It's about promoting animal welfare in Afghanistan, and responsible pet ownership."

The charity, which is also a non-profit organisation in America, retrieves dogs, neutering them and vaccinating them to avoid "major problems" like rabies, she said.

Miss Hastie, from Wolverhampton, first started re-homing animals when she worked in Iraq as a contractor.

The 41-year-old, who spent 10 years with the Staffordshire Regiment, served in Iraq as a reservist in 2004.

After returning to the UK, she decided to go back as a contractor and while there, rescued a cat - and then went through a nightmare to get it back to the UK.

"I had to perform miracles of biblical proportion to get this cat out of Iraq, and I didn't want anyone else to have to go through that."

Simba the cat later died, but Miss Hastie found herself receiving emails from soldiers in Iraq asking for help to rehome dogs they had befriended while serving there.

"When work died down in Iraq I came here as a contractor," she said. "My mum called me and told me about Pen and a charity he had set up."

After offering her help, soon Miss Hastie was spending hours every night helping people get their dogs home, so gave up her job to work full-time for Nowzad.

She now lives and works in Kabul, sharing her home at the charity's clinic with some 20 dogs, as well as around 20 cats. A further 100 dogs live at the charity's shelter outside the city.

Alongside Miss Hastie, a team of Afghan staff includes two full-time vets as well as two part-time female vets - thought to be the first female practising vets in Afghanistan, with most going into more academic roles.

Nowzad relies on donations from the public and advertises only through word-of-mouth, Miss Hastie said, but it had received a great reception from local people, with many turning to it for help.

"One Afghan woman brought a litter of five puppies here. Their mother had died when they were just three days old and she wanted them to be looked after.

"One dog found by an Afghan man had a broken leg. Another had been cut up on razor wire - it was an Afghan man who found him and brought him to us."

The dogs include Noel, the charity's "Christmas Day dog" who was brought in with a badly injured leg that had to be amputated.

But Miss Hastie said she had seen relatively few instances of deliberate cruelty to animals.

All dogs taken to Nowzad are vaccinated and given full health-checks, while puppies are kept until they have been fully vaccinated.

The charity helps people adopt the dogs, organising the lengthy task of getting them to their new families.

Miss Hastie admitted that waving goodbye to rehomed animals was upsetting, but added: "I'm just so happy they're going to a family where they are going to be loved and want for nothing."

And while many of the dogs are making their way to the UK, there is no sign of Miss Hastie, or Nowzad, leaving Afghanistan.

"We've all worked so hard, and this is something we very much believe in," she said.

"I don't foresee myself ever leaving. I'm here for keeps."


From Belfast Telegraph