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Monthly Archives: June 2012

the long haul…

It was then, after Brin’s momentous journey, that I was contacted by Cpt Mark to ask if I would be able to offer Brin a permanent home.

To be honest, despite all the hours and months involved with raising awareness and funding to get him to the UK I had not expected to be asked to care for him. Owning domestic dogs is a very different ball game to caring for a feral one. Although, from all I had learnt, he seemed a fairly chilled chap I was also certain there would be quite a few obstacles involved in the rehabilitation of such a dog.

Discussion with my family about the possibility of having Brin here was, understandably, not without it’s concerns. Three elderly dogs and a cat did not bode well to bring yet another into the fold.

Mark was unable to offer a permanent home due to the nature of his work and looking back I realised that he had never actually said he could..he just wanted Brin saved if possible. So a new dilemma evolved.

It was decided that we would ‘give it a go’ if Brin passed the screening in Kabul for the onward flight.

He would undergo six months quarantine, which would give ample time for getting to know whether it would work or not. I knew, deep down, I already adored him but tried hard not to let that show, even to my family.

His face, from the very first time I had seen him, had bored deep down into my heart and held on tight.

On the 13th September a new text came through.

Brin had passed his tests and was now on his way to Frankfurt for a stop over and further vet checks…and from there he would arrive at Heathrow on the 15th and from there he would go to a quarantine just outside of Brighton, approximately 40 minutes from door to door.

I cannot explain my emotions at that point. It is hard to put into words.

I know I cried.

I know I looked at all the paper surrounding me along with the ‘stickit notes’, photos and thankyou cards strewn all around my room.

I know that, in a way, I was ecstatic, overwhelmed and, deep down, extremely nervous of what was to come in the way of the reality of meeting a dog who had been through so much and had come over 4,000 miles to a country totally alien to his way of life before…

 

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sandstorms and bravery…

One can never truly imagine what life is like serving in Afghanistan.

I have caught glimpses when talking to men and woman who have been there and still only scratched at the surface.

What I have learnt is that there is a companionship, a loyalty towards each other that creates a bond that goes above and beyond anything I have seen before. You can still see this in the faces of our soldiers from wars long passed and I know from the stories shared by my late father-in-law that all they witness and experience  never leaves their side no matter how many years have past.

The journey from where Brin was in Helmand to Kabul was 421 miles, a journey that would take over eleven hours through some of the most dangerous and toughest terrain.

Of course, it would have been easy to fly but restrictions on the transportation of strays would have meant serious consequences for the soldiers and death for Brin.

But, with the clock ticking, something had to give.

On a secret journey that took five days, due to constant delays due to severe sandstorms and other set backs, Brin sat hidden in a special box made for him by the lads out of bomb proof material. Not a sound did he make during that time, as if he knew his life, and others, depended on it.

Five days of confinement for a dog who had roamed vast deserts, escaping all the dangers and horrors that befall so many animals in that area, proved to be just another moment in his life to cope with… and he did just that.

On his arrival at the Nowzad shelter the staff there adored him. His stubborn and independent nature made them laugh coupled with his ability to trust and befriend humans unknown to him. Brin would stay at the shelter for two weeks due to screening for rabies or parvo for, if he showed any of these diseases, then his journey onwards would be in doubt.

and so another waiting game began…

 

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and breathe…

Nowzad are an a amazing charity who began due to one man, Pen Farthing, who served in Afghanistan in 2008. During a patrol he broke up a dog fight, rescued a dog who became the linchpin for many others to eventually come under the umbrella of the charity to find safety.

This dog is called Nowzad after the place where he was first found and still lives in the UK today.

Pen went on to write about his time in Afghanistan in two books-

‘One dog at a time’ and ‘No Place like Home’ which have been read all over the world.

From a small shelter in Kabul animals find refuge, food and medical care and from there they are sent to homes all over the globe.

But for Brin, his journey was to be a little trickier.

With the silence that came, two weeks before Cpt Mark left, there came  fear. Very little knowledge is shared about the way these animals travel but it is always one of danger, uncertainty and possible failure.

No word from anyone at this time is like standing on a very high precipice without a safety net and no matter how hard you try the butterflies just will not settle.

It was not until later was I to learn exactly how Brin made the long journey to Kabul but, while at the fun day, I knew that this journey was being made. I could not tell anyone but instead continued to share his story with hope while ignoring the churning that continued with unrelenting pain deep within my stomach.

It was 10 minutes before the stalls were due to be packed away that a text came in..a text that I shared with the crowd who had done so much that day:

‘Brin has arrived at the shelter…picture to follow’

The cheer that went up was incredible. These people, along with so many unsung heroes who helped me so much, were truly part of that moment and it is those ‘moments’ that live in your heart forever.

 

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comprehending the past…

Funny how a picture can affect you so much. I have often thought about that.

Over the years I have seen countless furry faces peering out at me through the screen needing homes, or some kind of support, for medical help and I have tried to do what I can.

I have often wondered what if I hadn’t checked my computer that day…or missed the posting of the photograph that ‘spoke’ to me so much. I have also wondered if the path of saving Brin was also a path for saving myself in some way. He had become my total focus, my passion.

I knew nothing about Brin apart from what I had been told and even less about the country from where we were hopefully going to pluck him from.

I began to read books to educate myself about the people, the landscape and, above all, the history.

‘My Forbidden Face’ by Latifa was one book that taught me so much about the plight of the people who have blighted by war for over 30 years. It is an insight to one families life and how how it changed within 24 hours with the invasion of the Taliban in Kabul and their life beyond. It also gave a stark insight to the abandonment of their domestic animals through fear of persecution.

What would happen to Brin if he got out had not occurred to me either..I assumed Mark would care for him or someone else who had known him at the base. I already had three elderly collies plus a cat and, somehow, living with Brin had not come into the equation.

As for Brin, all had gone quiet for while. Cpt Mark had returned home for a 2 week rest and Brin was left in the care of others at the base. Nowzad were working behind the scenes to find a way to rescue him.

What I didn’t know was that a plan had already been hatched to removed a little brown dog from the most dangerous part of Afghanistan…

Helmand Province.

 

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sunny days and face paint…

with the weeks that followed Brin’s story began to spread worldwide and emails and donations came from all corners of the globe. I would spend each and every sunday replying personally to everyone who had left a contact and this would often take 5/6 hours or more.

Contact with Cpt. Mark would be very spasmodic due to difficulties of communication, but when he could write we would exchange brief details of what was going on. He was overwhelmed at the response Brins story had received and despite the little detail he was able to share about this small brown stray I could tell there was a real desperation to get him out by the time the tour of duty was over.

Brin, having survived all he had been through, had also been lucky enough to be cared for by two patrols in that area..and was unlikely to survive a third. As is the nature of war strays are not part of the plan and often a base is ‘cleared’ of strays before the next troops arrive. A harsh reality for an already harsh existence.

With Brins picture glued firmly onto my wall in front of my desk I continued to write to as many people and celebrities I could think of. No replies came from anyone and it was the general public who stepped up to help each and every time.

One phone call from a lady who had seen the article on Brin lifted my spirits. Karen and James own a pet store in a nearby village and they wanted to help by running a fun day and raffle in aid of his rescue fund. She was so enthusiastic and passionate about his story and really wanted to help.

A date was set and donations flooded in for raffles and prizes from many generous companies and to cap it all the sun shone all day. Crowds of people came and I spent many hours sharing Brins story with them all.

That day the wonderful people who came raised over £700.00 towards Brins fund…

but there was one thing I hadn’t shared with them all…yet…

 

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here there and everywhere…

News started to spread regarding the story of Brin and the local BBC radio contacted me for an interview at 7am two weeks after the story was published in the local paper. Having never done an interview before I was so nervous but the story of Brin was so amazing that it was easy to share with the listeners. From there came other offers from BBC Brighton and Radio Live 5. Some were easier than others as I was asked;

Why rescue a dog from Afghanistan when there are so many needing homes here?

Of course, this is true.

I have rescued all my life, and the list is pretty vast. Sheep, goats, dogs, cats, and Canaries. The Canaries came by accident when I once broke down in Croydon and, while waiting for help to arrive, I went into a pet store and spied two birds in a terrible condition and bought them on the spot to nurse them back to health.

But Brin deserved a chance too..no matter where in the world he was and, if by doing this and sharing his story, it would educate people to the plight of these animals then it would be worth it. These dogs, through no fault of their own need a voice and I hoped that my voice would be heard.

As the letters came in one in particular struck me.

A gentlemen who had served in the Suez Canal Conflict in 1968 sent me a cheque for £10.00 in ‘memory of all the strays he cared for during his service’. This moved me greatly and I wrote to him saying if Brin made it out I would buy him his first toy with the money…and I prayed that I would be able to keep that promise…

I also had offers of the whole amount..emails came form a source that seemed genuine. I was in shock but held my nerve as this was such a large amount of money to give.

But the wonders of the internet can reveal amazing things…and with careful searching the money was being offered from a source that was covering its prejudices and a wide berth was needed.

So, with a polite withdrawal, I continued the campaign with a new insight of paths to avoid…

 

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and so it began…

It was Marks family who told me about Nowzad and the work they do to help animals adopted by serving soldiers make it out to a new life, and home.

Life for the strays in Afghanistan is extremely harsh and the local people are often fearful due to the risk of disease from countless dogs and cats roaming free. The hot days and bitter nights also take their toll on these animals.

For the animals who find their way to a base their future is also often limited due to strict guidelines surrounding the befriending of these animals. For the soldiers who care for them they will tell you that they offer comfort and a ‘little piece of home’.

Nowzad said they would try to help but in the meantime to start fundraising to cover the costs involved. The costs being the care, flight and quarantine of Brin should he be saved. The overall costs would amount to just over £4,000 and after a sharp intake of breath I embarked on another journey that would enable me to encounter the most amazing people, along with a few that would also question what I was trying to achieve.

Printing out posters was the start, along with ‘ebaying’ collection tins to place anywhere that would take them. I wrote to the local papers as well as the nationals and it was the local Sussex Express who took up the story and ran with on the front page.

Not knowing quite how to collect any funds I started a ‘gofundme’ page testing it by donating the first amount. Kevin followed suit and there was a real moment of excitement that came with seeing two donations!

Unbelievably, this was followed by more the next day along with words of encouragement that made it all seem more real.

Through the paper article checks arrived, along with cards and letters all hand written. I made a point of writing back to each and every one to thank them for their kindness and also included a small photo of Brin.

During this time Cpt Mark and I managed a few emails and I explained what was going on over 4,000 miles away. He was in disbelief that there could be a chance that Brin might make it out before his tour of duty was over, but we still had a long way to go. Raising the funds was one thing…but just how do you get a dog out of the most dangerous area in Afghanistan?…this problem was tucked away for the time being as the campaign to get him out began to intensify…

 

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the first time I saw him…

July 15th 2010 was an ordinary day in an ordinary year and I was looking forward to the Summer holidays and a break from the school where I had worked for many years.

Checking into my Facebook account I was scrolling down the usual ‘chatter’ from friends when one post caught my eye. Kevin, a very close dear friend of mine, had posted a picture of a young man, his nephew, and dog along with a link to an incredible story published by the Mail on Line.

This story touched me deeply and Brin’s face captured my heart and I immediately wrote to Kevin asking if it was possible to get him out.

Kevin’s reply came back ‘I have no idea but it will probably mean a lot of fundraising and work’.

I saved the article and thought about how one would ever start rescuing a dog from such an impossible place and before I knew it I was searching for airlines on the web and sent out over 50 emails to each one with the line :

‘I am trying to find a way of transporting a dog from Afghanistan. Can anyone advise?’

Almost immediately emails came back from airlines but not what I needed. Standard replies of how to transport pets did not offer any possibility of even coming close to what I was hoping for as this was not to be an ordinary travel plan.

But then I found Nowzad.

 

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life on the base…

Brin was not in good shape at first, having been deprived of water and food for quite some time but his friendly and hopeful character soon brought about a loyalty and companionship that worked both ways. He was given spare rations once a day which included a raw egg to build up his strength and improve his coat and soon items were sent over to help with fleas and ticks.
Brin also enjoyed for the first time rawhides and a toy made from army socks rolled up into a ball.

This message from Mark explained a lot about Brins life on the base:-

A message from Captain Mark Townend re – Brin

 Hi all. My name is Captain Mark Townend, Brin’s adopted owner in Afghanistan. Given the public interest in this lively and devoted young pup I thought I would write to let all interested parties know how well our lad is doing. Sally will probably be posting a few new photos on the page in a few days which will help get a better idea of who Brin is and how he lives.

 First and foremost: Brin has filled out since becoming a full time member of the Patrol Base (PB). On a diet of army rations and fresh food when available from the kitchens (twice a day if available) along with a constant supply of clean water on tap Brin has begun to look much healthier. His ribs are gone and his coat has started to shine (an egg a day will do this for any dog owners out there!). In parallel to his health his personality has shown signs of healthy improvement. He has always been friendly to people, especially westerners and soldiers. He has become a keen watcher of humanity, sitting in what shade he can find from the mid day sun and watching the world pass him by, wagging his tail occasionally at someone he recognizes and enjoying the constant head scratching from all who take a second to greet him, which is pretty much everyone!

 Most encouragingly, he has recently begun playing: Something that afghan dogs are alien to in the way we would know. He has been gifted a tennis ball from home which he takes great delight in chasing when thrown in the air and retrieving back to his “safe” area for a re-throw! This has shown a retrieving instinct that bodes very well for his home training in his future life. He is suffering somewhat in the summer afghan heat (as all dogs do) and is relatively lethargic in the day time until the evening cools off a little and allows him to perk up. He will definitely enjoy a change of climate on his move to UK soil and he will likely become far more active in cooler day time temperatures. He usually walks the perimeter of the PB first thing in the morning and last thing at night when the temperatures are coolest which is his exercise routine for the day. He will be looking forward to longer walks in the UK, and has a natural tendency to walk “to heel” on the lead (although he does like to pull when he sees something that catches his eye!).

 He is also a relatively clean dog: business is limited to a small area and is always “scrapped over” as best he can manage. He enjoys regular brushing (important given the parasites around the place out here) and will melt in the hands of anyone who takes the time to scratch him between the ears for a few moments. He is friendly with other dogs although his boisterous and puppy-like full speed approach can be misread by more nervous animals: introductions are handled in a relaxed and calm manner to ensure no issues. Once introduced Brin makes friends easily and he loves the company. His best friend to date is a search dog (golden Labrador) named Casper who is always pleased to see him when their daily walks cross paths.

 In short he is a pleasure to have around, is in no way a burden to our daily soldiering and has shown some very positive signs of being more “civilized” than other afghan hounds with his background. He will blend seamlessly into UK life I am sure.

 I will post what I can when I can on his progress: my involvement with him stops when he reaches a safe area of afghan and the hands of the next stage carer for his vet checks and eventual flight back to UK. Your support and generosity has made this risky and dangerous journey for him as supported as he ever could ask for and, with your help, if ever a dog had the best chance of making it through the war zone to safety it will be Brin. We will all do all we can on our various levels to do the right thing for our boy: but know that your interest in his story in itself supports his journey and improves his chances. From Brin and myself: Thank you. To Sally and all of you who have contributed to his future and his welfare. Never could either of us imagined such a response to his story.

He proved to also be quite the ‘escape artist’ often to be seen off base running after patrols and trotting about without a care in the world which was not the best thing to do in that area!
So, Brin had to learn to stay put by being tethered outside the sleeping quarters where he would wait patiently for Cpt. Mark to return from patrols and they would go for a walk together around the base twice a day.
Brin lived with the Gurkha Rifles for many months and, although still a ‘stray’ in the eyes of the army, he became part of daily routine and included in many activities alongside his newfound friends.

Despite his relative safety there was always the doubt about his future as, for many of the strays from these areas, the outlook is bleak.

The army, after all, are not there to save dogs…

and for Brin, time was running out.

 

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on being found…

In March, 2010, the Coldstream Guards were clearing a road in LasKar Gah, Helmand  province when they spotted a small brown stray dog barking at the side of the road. On closer inspection they found that he was barking at a hidden bomb device (I.E D) that would have certainly killed at least two soldiers at the front of the line.

This little brown dog had saved their lives.

Taking him back to their base, due his friendliness, he quickly became a source of comfort and companionship, earning the name ‘Alan The Vallon’ as he would accompany  the troops on many patrols through heavily mined areas without incident. He knew the smell of such dangers and had probably witnessed the effect through living rough in that area for many months before.

During a fierce firefight with the Taliban, ‘Alan’ was left behind as the troops were airlifted out to safety as ‘strays’ were not allowed on military vehicles. It was not what the lads wanted but they had no choice. They also knew that ‘Alan’ had often trailed off now and then and had always found his way back to the base..so they hoped this would be the case after this event.

‘Alan’ did not return.

Time came for the soldiers to leave but before they did they left word for the new input, The Gurkha Rifles, to keep an eye out for him and why but months passed and still nothing was seen or heard of him and it was assumed he was dead.

Then, during May 2010, word came back from an Elder at a local village that a dog was being held to ransom at a Taliban outpost. This dog was deemed valuable as they had been watching him guide the troops through dangerous areas without the usual animal army protective clothing and also running free. They wanted money for him or they would kill him.

The Gurkha Rifles sent the Afghan National Army in to clear the Taliban base, not expecting ‘Alan’ to come out alive but after the bombardment he was found, alive, starving, suffering broken ribs but still wagging his tail.

‘Alan’ was brought back to the base where he first was taken and handed over to Captain Mark Townend who recognised this dog from the story left behind. Cpt. Mark renamed him ‘Brin’ after the colouring of his coat but also to protect him from further harm due to being very well known in the area.

There then came a bond between these two that changed both their lives, and many others, forever.

 

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