UK & World News
Soldiers Reunited With Their Front Line Pets
A former royal marine is helping serving soldiers to bring their "adopted" canine companions home from the front line when they return from Afghanistan.
Pen Farthing was on patrol in the town of Nowzad in 2006 while serving with the Royal Marine Commandos in Afghanistan when his patrol found themselves breaking up a dog fight.
He said one of the animals attached itself to the soldiers and became their constant companion, providing distraction from the pressures of the front line and helping them to de-stress.
"Dog fighting is sadly a national sport here in Afghanistan," Mr Farthing said.
"We broke up that dogfight, not knowing that one of those dogs was going to adopt me.
"We named him Nowzad after the town we were in and that dog Nowzad befriended me and became my five minutes of just not being in Afghanistan.
"I would come in off patrol and just pretend I wasn't there, so after six months I couldn't bear to leave him behind."
He went on: "Lots of people deal with stress in different ways and I always relate it to people back home and if you have a bad day in the office you might get home and if you've got a dog, you look forward to taking him for a walk.
"So for me down there in Helmand province it was just the same. It was just not being on the frontline for those five or 10 minutes. That's how I got through it."
With Nowzad safely back in the UK, Mr Farthing returned to Kabul and founded the country's only animal welfare shelter.
Along with fellow former British soldier Louise Hastie, he works with a team of Afghan veterinary staff to reunite troops with their dogs in a country where he says dogs are often regarded as dirty and solely associated with diseases likes rabies.
The Nowzad animal charity has also recently started to send dogs back to the USA, helping troops suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Ms Hastie said many soldiers suffering from the trauma of war have seen the animals on the front lines and there is "an experience shared with them".
"It's something both dog and soldier have, familiar territory," she said.
"And often it might be that the dog is the only one which will understand. The dog isn't going to talk back, it's going to be there for you regardless of what you say, and it's a gut feeling of 'the dog knows what I'm going thorough'."
Even more poignant for Mr Farthing, is the story of British soldier Private Conrad Lewis, who was shot and killed by a Taliban sniper in 2011 just four months into his first tour of duty.
Private Lewis, of 4th Battalion The Parachute Regiment, had spent the months before his death writing to his parents, explaining how much a dog was helping him deal with the horrors of battle.
His parents were determined to respect their son's wish to bring Peg home and asked Mr Farthing for his help.
"We had no idea where Peg was and it's not information that's given out," said Mr Farthing.
"We had to pull in a few favours to find exactly where Conrad's troops actually were and if they still had the dog. We mentioned we wanted to get Peg out of Helmand and just over two years ago now we were able to reunite the family with the dog he was always talking about."
Since Mr Farthing started the clinic and shelter three years ago, his charity has helped over 550 soldiers get their animals home and offered treatment to countless more.
He said: "Some of these dogs are straight off the street in Kabul, it might be Afghans who've brought them to us or it could be westerners who are working here.
"They've seen a dog in distress, so they bring it to us at the Nowzad shelter.
"The dogs are then vaccinated and neutered and they come here while we try and find a home for them, maybe with locals or in the West.
"Other dogs here are waiting to go to their soldiers, some of these dogs have been found on the frontline, the soldier wants to take the dog home with them so they'll then bring them to us," he added.