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About Sally and Brin

Brin is a rescue from Helmand Afghanistan. Saved by the British forces he reached the UK, and to a life of safety, in September 2010. In July 2011 Brin was awarded the PDSA Commendation for Loyalty towards the British Troops while on patrol. www.warpaws.org

patience and mud…

I began to feel my age. All 50 years of it!

Brin was rather like having a toddler in the house and he knew no bounds..or boundaries!

Sofas were leapt over, tables jumped on and the inevitable chewing of tv remotes and cordless phones were some of the never-ending lists of sampling by his exploring teeth.

Three stair gates were placed around the house as he took to ‘guarding’ the stairs if any members of the family, apart from me, tried to pass. We also had to partition the cat away from him as their first meeting did not bode well with huge staring eyes from both sides and the licking of lips from Brin.

We also had a gate on the kitchen door, giving him full access to the garden, but that proved no match for a afghan mutt who could put Olympic pole-vaulters to shame. Brin would not tolerate being left and the gate would come crashing down as we tried placing it higher each time. The base of his sleeping crate became quickly destroyed so further layers of blankets had to be placed inside to cover the exposed metal. Fourteen harnesses were shredded and one nifty bite would see the end of so many leads that I eventually lost count.

Television was carefully monitored as he would fly at the screen if any dogs were barking, cats meowing or birds singing. In the evening, while trying to relax, Brin would have to have a lead on while he sat by us as he would often jump all over the place if something spooked him and more than once he tried to jump through the window after his reflection.

He became my shadow and wherever I went he was there.

Cards and gifts soon arrived to welcome him home and the local paper featured him once more as I really wanted to thank everyone involved in raising the funds to help.

Brin would explore the garden inch by inch and it was on the second day that the full extent of his ‘lifesaving sniffing skills’ came in to play.

Watching him from the kitchen window we saw him exploring an area of the garden where a newly planted pear tree was waving in the wind.

Suddenly, as if in slow motion, the tree gracefully tipped over followed by flurries of mud flying high into the air. With a wave of horror I realised what he was doing and what he had found. Four month earlier we had said goodbye to our elderly cat Marilyn and buried her just behind the rose-bed. I had not banked on seeing her again so soon, but Brin had it seemed, and running up the garden I made it just in time before he had removed her completely.

I am fortunately blessed with a strong stomach, through caring for many injured and sick animals over the years, but this was something else.

Three times I had to re-bury her due to Brin insisting that this really was something exciting to do and on his fourth attempt to resurrect her I decided that it would be safer to cremate her instead!

Digging became a massive occupation and at night it would prove a real challenge to get him indoors.

In Afghanistan the dogs would dig huge holes to sleep in for warmth and safety. Brin was still learning and it was amazing to see his old habits return. I would sit quietly in the dark and talk to him sometimes for up to an hour for, if I approached him too quickly, he would run off and the process would start all over again. He would dig a deep hole and sit as flat as he could and this was usually right at the back of a flower bed full of heavy foliage. Nothing would bring him to me and I would slowly inch my way up to him, stopping when I could feel the tension mount.

Once I had the lead on him all was fine and he was happy to trot back indoors and into his kennel where a small pile of snacks were waiting. This process of digging and hiding away at night took 12 weeks to totally fade away but I was willing to go through it with him and not force him to do anything he felt unsure of.

It was going to take time, patience and consistency for he had learnt so many ways to survive on his own and I was not about to take control of a dog just because I was cold, tired and often soaked through with rain.

In fact, I admired him deeply.

Despite having a full stomach and a cosy bed he still carried with him the burden of what went before and in some way, though all the changes he had endured, there was an insecurity that remained deep-rooted and ingrained. Maybe he felt that change would come again and so held on to his learned tactics just incase…what I did know was I loved him dearly and, despite the growing exhaustion of caring for a dog who already had physically pushed me to the limit, I became even more determined to let him know that nothing bad was ever going to happen to him again…

 

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and so it happened…

We were off to pick up Brin at long last.

6 months had flown by and the friendships and fun that had built up along the way certainly made it even more special.

All of the family came down to greet Brin as he was finally set free. Armed with his harness and lead and helium ‘thankyou’ balloons it all felt rather surreal to think that this would be the last time I would drive the 30 miles to his kennel.

Walking down the corridor I also peeked in at the other dogs I had come to know over the months. These dogs came from all over the world..truly fascinating.

And so the moment came…the door unlocked and we all stood back.

Brin, in his usual cautious manner, poked his nose across the threshold and retreated back into the place that had been his home for so long. Further calling encouraged him to fly out and begin a mad dashing up and down the corridor greeting everyone with a flurry of wagging and fur. Such a happy dog. Such a happy moment.

Of course there were tears…he had made quite an impact on everyone there, not only because of his story and all he had endured, but because of his unconditional love and trust he had shown everyone involved in his care.

Not once had he grumbled. Not once had he growled or made anyone wary. He had taken his time and time had been given to him to recover and with the help of so many here was a dog who was ready to take the next steps towards learning about life without fear, hunger or pain.

The car proved no problem at all. I sat in the back with him all the way home and watched as he took in everything that went past the window. Constantly reassuring him by talking and stroking he was quick to relax and take the journey in his stride.

Waiting at home were my three other dogs and, although I knew they were accepting of all dogs, our concern was how Brin would react on meeting them.

In Afghanistan dogs have a daily fight for survival and we knew we would have to take real care over so many things.. especially food and water as well as toys. I had already bought extra water bowls and placed them round the garden as I felt that having just one bowl may become a problem. This proved to be a good move as, in fact, when Brin came home the importance of water became more of a focus than food.

Leading Brin into the house on his lead the others dogs came forward to greet him. Brin wagged his tail and showed no hesitation at all and it was decided to let them all go out into the garden.

For Brin, this was almost overwhelming. He stood for ages just sniffing the air and gazing into the distance. My other dogs would come up and check him out and move on..I was so proud of them all. Only when Ruby got a little ‘in his face’ was there a grumble but this soon dispelled.

Dennis, the youngest aged 11, was very excited to have a new playmate and what happened next you will see in the video below..

but…there was much more to learn about this dog from Afghanistan…and unbeknownst to me I had not bargained for all the things he would get up to in the weeks and months beyond…

 

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the week before…

And so it was to be…

Brin was finally coming home to us.

Seven days were left after months of driving down through all weathers, three times a week.

In a way I would really miss these times.

Brin and I had built up such a relationship within four walls and I had managed to form a bond with a dog who had tolerated massive changes in his short life without complaint. We had sat together for hours on end and I have to admit to crying many times due to the pleasure of seeing him learn to play and enjoying being just a dog that had nothing to fear ever again.

Everyone who came in contact with him adored him. There was something magnetic in his personality that had borne him well through so many difficulties and so much hardship. No one could resist his earnest gaze, his warmth and joy at just being alive. He had wanted for nothing but took such pleasure in his gifts of toys and the comfort of his bed. Stories would come out from the girls who, on their nightly rounds, would watch him arrange all his toys in a circle around his sleeping area as if placing them on guard to watch over him while he slept. Sometimes the girls would creep into his kennel and fall asleep next to him, just to give him company and I loved them for that.

When the snow came and I couldn’t get down to visit I rang to ask if they could place a pice of snow in his kennel as he would never have seen this before. They did and this photo was sent to me

His love of routine was evident and you could almost tell the time by him. I bought in a harness to see what his reaction would be, having never worn one before, and he coped extremely well but it would also be one of fourteen he would chew through in his first month of being home!

At home I had purchased a large crate for him to sleep in for to allow him free access to roam around at night would probably cause a few problems for a dog who had never stepped in side a house before.

I had also sold my car to re-fence our garden as I did not want to use a penny of the money raised for my own purposes.

So we were ready…at least as ready as we could be.

There were big changes coming up for Brin, and indeed my family, but we would now take it one day at a time and see what the future would bring.

The clock was ticking…

and the reality of living with a dog from Afghanistan was just around the corner…

 

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as time went by…

Time was coming for us to make a decision.

Of course, I was totally in love with Brin having spent all of the late summer and winter with him. It was a big decision to make as our home had just been the three collies, who had always been together in excellent harmony, for over 10 years.

We felt we should give it a go and see what happened. Brin, being predominantly a feral dog, would have no knowledge of so many things that it would certainly be a steep learning curve for all of us!

I had watched him grow in confidence and loved seeing him learn new things. His toy box was overflowing with gifts sent from many people from all over the world and I would share with them photos and news every time I came back from a visit.

It had been decided that Brin would be neutered while in quarantine, via special licence, and this would certainly help with any aggression towards my dogs at home. This was done one month prior to coming home and Brin coped extremely well. I have to say we did laugh..poor soul!

I brought in toys from home for him to smell and play with as I felt that by introducing their scent it would help with the initial meeting..but deep down I still worried about how things would work out.

But we had come so far and we were not going to give up on him.

                         And so the next stage of Brins journey, and ours, was about to begin…

 

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Brin hits the headlines…

Word about Brin, and his amazing story and rescue, began to spread.

Papers and radio stations continued to share his story and I was contacted by ITV as they wanted to film him for a Christmas special.

Being still in quarantine I was worried about Brins reaction to having strangers in his relatively small space as I was still unsure of his capabilities when faced with certain situations.

Mark was coming down too, as they wanted to include him in the interview, so that helped knowing he would enable Brin to feel secure.

Everyone arrived on time and I had already spent time with Brin giving him a brush-up and his usual snacks to make him feel relaxed and ready to roll.

He met all the new people with his usual charm, and seemed to be coping well, until the camera-man arrived and he reacted like I had never seen before. His tail went down and he became very guarded, running around the edges of his kennel and barking as if trying to escape. Mark mentioned that the camera looked very much like a gun that Brin would have been very close to while on patrol with the lads in Afghanistan and these memories were being well and truly triggered. I have to say I was not happy to see him so upset as this really showed the true power of memory for this dog and was certainly an eye-opener for all who witnessed it.

It was decided to leave the camera on the ground for a while to allow Brin to sniff and check out the whole structure and this worked like a charm. He seemed to understand that there was nothing to be afraid of and the old Brin returned once more.

The filming began and Brin was amazing. He sat and waited for treats and wagged his tail at Mark who was off camera keeping strong eye contact at all times.

The filming took just over an hour and after they left I spent time with Brin just sitting and letting him relax by my side.

The article went national and Brin’s story was soon being shared all over the world via his Facebook page.

His fan base was building by the hour and the love that was growing for this little brown dog, from all over the world, was phenomenal.

 

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two old friends…

I had been Brins constant visitor for over one month and he was really settled and very loved at the quarantine.

The girls who cared for him were amazing and often would come in and sit with me while Brin would dart in and out to check out the snack rations.

One day was going to be particularly amazing and one I had hoped would come.

Mark was home and was travelling down to see his old pal once more. It had been several months since they had seen each other at the dusty patrol base back in Afghanistan. To Mark, it still seemed incredible that Brin had actually made it home.

On his arrival, Mark thanked all the girls who had already done so much for Brin and then came the moment when the two old friends would meet once more.

Brin heard his voice even before he saw him. He knew exactly who was arriving. His whole body changed and his tail wagged as if it would fly from his body.

Mark was behind the door and as it lifted there was no stopping the flurry of a small brown dog who danced around Mark as if on hot coals.

He raced up and down the corridor, skidding all over the place and his energy was awesome to see. Mark whistled him back and Brin raced once more to be at his side.

There was no denying the bond between these two.

Always together.

Many memories.

I think this photo says a lot about the relationship between Mark and Brin.

For ages they sat together and Brin didn’t take his eyes off him.

Without Mark, Brin would not have survived long enough to make it out of Afghanistan.

I think he knew.

 

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building the trust…

Three times a week I would travel down after work to spend 2 hours with Brin.

At first he would be very pleased to see me and we would play with his toys for a while but then he would become distracted and watchful, spending most of his time gazing out of his kennel drawing in deep breaths through his nose as if drinking in everything around him.

Eating was a major activity and, at first, the adrenalin rush would make him unsteady on his feet and he would lean against the wall until the moment passed. Regular food was still something to get used to and his diet was carefully monitored at this time. When he arrived he weighed only 21kg and through his coat signs of a rib broken some time ago protruded sharply.

There was a concern that he may also be deaf as he was so, so quiet despite all the barking and activity surrounding him. Later, I would learn that this was something he had learnt in Afghanistan and that to stay quiet around barking dogs was a way of surviving and he still does this to this day.

I would bring a book to read on my visits and Brin would chose to come in to me, just to check I was still there. I chose not to be overboard with cuddles and interaction at first but rather to let it take it’s course.

Other visitors to other dogs would play and run about the kennels and when it was time for them to leave the dogs would howl. Brin showed signs of being very content where he was and I did not feel that to encourage him to be too active at this stage would beneficial to his wellbeing.

His toy collection grew over the weeks and this included a toy bought with the money donated by the soldier as promised.

Nothing was ever destroyed and he treasured each and every one of them.

Gradually, he began to enjoy being brushed although some areas of his body proved a problem and he would let me know by swinging his head round as if giving a little warning. I respected that.

During the late summer months we would sit together in the sunshine, me reading and Brin content to keep guard at the front of his kennel. He still had little intention of making moves towards me unless a snack was involved but that was fine by me.

His first bath showed what we always suspected. A cost of many, many colours ranging from red to black. A short, soft coat with two layers, one to keep him cool during the unrelenting heat while living in the desert and the other to keep him warm during the bitter nights. The change in temperature in the UK caused him to scratch as the humidity was something he was not used to. His eyes began to clear from the constant stream of gluey material caused by stress and poor condition and before our eyes we were beginning to see Brin in all his true glory.

A month in quarantine and Brin was doing really well. But what he didn’t know was that a huge surprise was awaiting him just around the corner…

 

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the moment of truth…

Brin arrived into the UK on September the 15th around midday. I was at at school at the time when the text came in and I was able to share this news with the children who had also followed Brins story over the summer holidays.

The quarantine rang to say they would be collecting him in the afternoon and, once cleared, Brin would be finally on his way to Sussex to begin 6 months in their care.

Many people have opinions on quarantine, and I personally feel that for ‘domestic’ dogs this is a long time indeed. But, with Brin, I felt that this time would be beneficial in two ways. One, to get to know him and try to understand how he ‘ticks’ and two, for him to get to know me and to learn trust and commitment from a human who had decided never to let him down.

The quarantine was set in beautiful countryside and the people in charge, kind, caring and full of humour and there are stories I will share with you later.

On arriving (after getting very lost!) my husband and I waited as the paperwork was handed over. This folder contained everything to date concerning Brin and documented every stop/injection and medical check he had gone through to make it home.

It was all a bit of blur really as all I really wanted to see was if this little brown dog, who had been part of my life 24/7 for the past three months, really was real.

The noise became pretty deafening from all the dogs as we walked along the path toward the kennels. Faces, large and small, peered out over vast swathes of grasses waving in the wind.

Pointing to one kennel I could see two eyes staring that belonged to a small brown dog who remained totally calm despite all the chaos surrounding him. Those eyes I knew by heart. I had looked at them everyday.

The time came when the door to his kennel was to be opened and peering in I could see a dividing door from where I could see a shadow moving behind. I had already thought about how I should introduce myself and took up position to allow him to come to me and not the other way around. I had no idea really as to whether he would greet me, or bite me…but the time had come to find out.

Brin leapt though the door and immediately began wagging his tail. Back and forth he leapt though the door as if checking that his escape route was still there. Following him into the front part of the kennel we watched in wonder as this dog, who had made it so far, ran around greeting each and everyone of us as if he had known us for always.

He was extremely dusty and dirty but underneath all of this there seemed to be a river of colours just waiting to shine. His eyes were almost orange in colour and followed you everywhere. Brin allowed us to stroke him but only at arms length, for any closer he would back up and skip away on his rather short little ‘Queen Anne’ legs!

In a bag I had a toy. His first ever real dog toy. A small yellow fluffy dog had been donated, along with his first proper bed, from Pets at Home who had heard of his story and wanted to help. Brin’s reaction to the toy was one of pure wonder. The sound of the squeak sent him flying backwards with surprise and tentatively he  stepped forward and took the toy gently from my hand.

 To this day..this teddy remains intact and in his bed.

 

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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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