KABUL, Afghanistan — One British marine’s mission extended beyond his tour of duty, as he returned to found Nowzad Dogs, Afghanistan’s first and only official animal shelter. The shelter alleviates the suffering of animals in Afghanistan, provides human health benefits by reducing disease-carrying strays and works to educate people about animal welfare and safety.
Pen Farthing, the founder of Nowzad Dogs, served in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan during his tour of duty in 2006. While there, he rescued and cared for a number of stray dogs. Afghanistan has no government programs to control the stray animal population. Packs of mud-and-dust caked dogs and cats are a common sight on the streets of Kabul.
Nowzad Dogs began as a charity that was established to transport these homeless animals out of the country to be adopted. Most of the dogs and cats are adopted by soldiers, contractors and aid workers who found and cared for the animals during their deployment in Afghanistan.
In 2010, Farthing took his mission even further and established the Nowzad Dogs shelter and Nowzad Conrad Lewis Clinic in Kabul. The clinic is named for another soldier who had adopted one of the stray dogs, but who was sadly killed in combat in Helmand. Nowzad Dogs was able to send his dog home to his family.
So far, Nowzad Dogs has been able to transport about 700 dogs and cats out of the country for adoption. As a nonprofit organization, Nowzad relies on donations to raise the $3,500 required to transport each animal to its new home.
While many Afghan families do want to adopt pets, they often do not have the capacity or space needed to care for the animals. Many foreigners living in Afghanistan adopt the strays as well. When strays are taken in by Afghan people or foreign residents, they can take them to the Nowzad clinic to be neutered, vaccinated and micro-chipped.
This clinical care is a key part of Nowzad’s mission. Neutering the animals reduces the population of stray dogs in the area. The shelter has an ambitious five-year plan to capture, neuter and release all of Kabul’s stray animals in its effort to reduce the population of strays.
Farthing states that the mission goes even beyond animal welfare: “if we can control the stray dog population, we can then control rabies.”
Rabies is a serious problem in Afghanistan because of the high number of stray dog packs. These packs are often in proximity to people, especially in Kabul. The disease is most often fatal to people who come in contact with it.
Nowzad’s mission to reduce the number of stray animals and vaccinate as many as possible is a matter of public health and safety. The safety of children is a major issue, as children walking to school often have to walk farther to avoid stray dog packs in the streets. The Nowzad Dogs shelter provides education on avoiding potentially dangerous animals.
Another goal of the shelter is to increase the education and animal-caring capacity of Afghanistan. Nowzad educates people on animal welfare, which includes caring for domestic pets and working animals.
To ensure continued education and that the animals are given the best care, foreign veterinarians such as Dr. Mohammad of Mayhew International, London, and Dr. Susan Chadima of Maine, U.S., will visit the shelter. These visiting vets provide additional training to keep the local staff up-to-date on vital procedures.
The regular veterinary staff at the Nowzad clinic consists of three highly qualified Afghan vets: Dr. Abdullah Hadi, the main veterinarian, and two female veterinarians, Mariam and Meliha. Mariam is a veterinary student at Kabul University and Meliha is one of the few women to graduate from the University’s veterinary program. Indeed, Meliha is probably the country’s first female veterinarian. Mariam and Meliha are the only known female veterinarians in practice in the country.
Meliha says that working on domesticated animals in not a respected profession in Afghanistan for men or women. However, the Nowzad shelter is hoping that the care of animals will gain favor. Caring for these animals and reducing the stray population has a number of recuperative benefits for an area that has been ravaged by conflict. There will be fewer suffering animals, less human suffering from rabies and an overall increase in quality of life for everyone involved. As the people working at Nowzad say, “Afghanistan is a country full of potential.”