For all the fighting Farthing was sent to do, it was playing peacemaker that changed his life forever. A member of the British Royal Marines, Farthing, now 41, was deployed to the town of Now Zad in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan in November 2006. One day near his compound, he saw two dogs fighting and went over to break it up. Little did he expect that one of the dogs in the fight would become a dear friend.
“I couldn’t say no to those big sad eyes,” Farthing wrote on his website. “The now very former fighting dog became my buddy and found himself a name — Nowzad.”
Seeing many such animals during his tour of duty, Farthing became a crusader to rescue animal refugees of the conflict. On Oct. 5 and 6, Farthing will be in Reno to talk about his book “One Dog at a Time,” which recounts the tale of his mission to save these pets.
After Farthing took in Nowzad, more animals began appearing that were malnourished and likely would not have survived the Afghan winter. One of them crawled under the gate of his compound dragging six puppies with her. The country lacks centralized control of the stray animal population, Farthing said, and within the chaos of war, many animals were left to fend for themselves. Farthing’s sympathy for these animals would not allow him to look the other way, despite military regulations forbidding companion animals.
“You might have a soldier walking down a street who sees a puppy or something that may be freezing to death or starving or abused by local kids,” Farthing said Monday by telephone from his home in Corsham, England. In the background, Tali (short for Taliban), the dog that dragged her puppies under the gate, barked playfully at Nowzad. “Anybody who is an animal lover will pick the puppy up and want to take care of it.”
After his 20-year military career ended last year, Farthing now spends much of his time working for his charity, Nowzad Dogs, a nonprofit organization created to save canines and other animals befriended by soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nowzad provides rescue facilities for the care and treatment of dogs, cats, donkeys and other abandoned war animals. Nowzad also coordinates the daunting task of transporting companions to the homes of soldiers throughout the world, including the Lucky 7, who attacked a suicide bomber and saved the lives of 50 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
The Nowzad shelter in Afghanistan is run by locals, Farthing said, and there is no military support for his efforts. If a soldier can provide a good home to an animal back in his or her home country, Nowzad helps get the animal there. Otherwise, Farthing said, his group tries to find a home in the Middle East.
The Nowzad shelter vaccinates, spays and neuters its animals, he said. Another reason to get the stray animal population under control in Afghanistan is for the safety of humans, Farthing said. Because vaccinations are not readily available, rabies is a problem and people are never sure if a roaming animal is disease-free. Also, residents will get rid of animals by shooting them — which can prolong the death if it is not killed instantly — or poisoning them — which can endanger children who accidentally ingest the poison.
Moving the animals was additionally difficult, Farthing said on the website www.nowzad.com, because doing so is against military regulations. On the site he wrote, “So the difficult task of persuading a local Afghanistan driver to take the dogs all the way to the rescue in the north — a journey of several days — began. Eventually we found a taxi that would take the dogs some of the way to Lashkar Gar and then they would be exchanged with another driver for the journey to Kandahar and then swapped yet again into another vehicle for the drive to the rescue. We had a few issues with this as we knew that the vehicles would be stopped by the Taliban at road blocks and for that reason the driver wouldn’t let us put the dogs in cages, (a very British thing to do – definitely not an Afghan method of transporting dogs), so we had to tie the dogs up with rope and put the puppies into small crates ... not something we were entirely comfortable with – but what else we were we to do?”
Many of the animals Farthing worked to save are now in loving homes in America and England, and he has many more stories about this effort in his book and online. Farthing will tell his story and sign copies of his book at the following locations and times:
• Oct. 5 from 4 to 9 p.m. at Borders book store, 4995 S. Virginia St. in Reno
• Oct. 6 from 3:30 to 6 p.m at Barnes and Noble bookstore, 5555 S. Virginia St. in Reno
• Oct. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the McKinley Arts & Culture Center, 925 Riverside Drive in Reno