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Knock knock…

June 2011 brought a wonderful surprise.

Once a year the PDSA announce awards for animals who have achieved outstanding bravery/devotion and loyalty.

Brin’s story was, indeed, well known but I had no idea it had made it to their boardroom for consideration among so many others.

Brin was selected for the PDSA Loyalty Award for never leaving the soldiers while on patrol in Afghanistan and a huge achievement for a small brown stray from Afghanistan. Everyone who had cared for him were so very proud and no one more so than Cpt Mark.

The framed certificate arrived along with a wonderful letter of congratulations and, after making a copy for myself, I sent the original on to Mark to keep forever.

A few weeks later a PDSA van arrived at our local pet store and I took Brin, and his award, along to show it to them as they had never seen one before.

Brin was also offered a free health check and weigh-in but declined…

Many of the other strays that the troops have befriended over there have shown similar loyalty and I hoped that this award would help to raise the profile of these incredible animals who often go unsung in recognition of the unconditional devotion they give despite all they go through.

 

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where there’s muck…

Brin had a few visits planned to say thankyou to the people who had helped to raise fund to get him home and so off we set to meet the children at my school who had followed his journey and were so excited to know he had made it home.

I had used his story as part of a lesson I was teaching them about animal welfare. There was to be a debate about whether animals should be used in war, rescues and security.

This debate proved really interesting as they spoke about the reality of situations, through research, far beyond their experiences, thank god.

The outcome was that animals should be used if it meant the saving of a human life.

Brin had saved lives without any specialist training of course. This is what made his story that more remarkable. He knew where the dangers where just by having to survive everyday. People say that they wished their animals could speak but in Brin’s case I am glad he couldn’t as I feel the pain of his experiences would be very hard to bear.

Brin behaved impeccably at the school where over 100 children lined up to stroke him. Cpt. Mark came along to talk to the children about Brin’s life in Afghanistan, bringing with him Sam his own dog. I would have thought Brin would have freaked at meeting such a huge dog but he just greeted him normally as if he knew that he was part of Mark’s family.

Brins tolerance of children was amazing for, in Afghanistan, the new generation of youngsters have, sadly, been brought up to fear strays and their treatment of them has been known to be pretty harsh at times. Brin either escaped such treatment or managed to steer clear for his friendliness was lovely to witness and no children were eaten that day!

Raising funds to help other dogs and cats make it home was always on my mind and one day, while walking in the forest Brin came upon a pair of underpants lying by the base of a tree. He wanted to carry these with him but I managed to persuade him otherwise. I documented this story in pictures as he would rush back each day to check on his ‘treasure’. Other items were also found and the hilarity of his ‘finds’ made for a fundraising idea.

The pants were framed and auctioned along with pictures of his ‘Quest’ and raised a good amount for the charity..the couple who won them were delighted… apart from the fact that when they hung it on their wall it promptly fell down and hit them on the head!

It seemed wherever he went he caused chaos!

 

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sometimes…

Four months in.

Brin would still guard doorways and, despite the house becoming a little like the visiting room of the local prison due to the ever-increasing number of stair-gates, we all were getting used to his quirks and quibbles.

Brin was never going to be easy but there were brief glimpses of him relaxing more and becoming less demanding on my time.

I was also getting used to walking him out in the forest and I seemed to have developed a 6th sense of what was around the corner. Small dogs were never a problem even if they chose to hang off his top lip and this led me to believe that sometime, in his past, he either was around puppies or had fathered some.

Big dogs remained a problem and around here there are many and sometimes I would be so tired and physically exhausted after a walk I would cry.

People were often very good when they stopped long enough to hear his story. Some were not and, often at a time when I felt particularly low, their words would hurt. It often felt very lonely.

Everyday I would take him out, rain or shine, and I learnt to swiftly dive into the thick undergrowth when the enemy according to Brin’ would appear over the horizon. I took to taking him out mid-afternoon as this time was the quietest and the people walking their dogs were often more sympathetic to a woman hanging on for dear life to a dog who had a bark loud enough to wake the devil.

Sometimes it felt that life would have been easier had I decided not to take him on.

My home would be gate free and my nerves, having to cope with the growling every time someone came up the stairs or if one of the dogs decided to amble innocently into the room, would be less frazzled.

I seemed to spend all my whole time trying to avoid situations and, to be quite honest, I was often at the end of my tether. I adored him but the feral in him was tough to break and it seemed, at times, we would always be living on a knife-edge with Brin with me in tow trying to keep things together.

It became a huge responsibly caring for Brin as he also now had many people following his antics on his Facebook page. I didn’t share the tough times except through private messages to Sue and other Afghan rescue dog owners. But it seemed we all were going through similar situations and this helped so much knowing I was not alone.

Brin was also raising much-needed funds for Nowzad through his antics…and one in-particular caused quite a stir…

 

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trials and tribulations…

Brin had now been at home for just over three months and everyday brought new challenges, lessons but above all laughter.

Brin was becoming a real character and his confidence to cope with many new things were developing well.

One major problem, however, was rain.

Afghanistan is known for torrential downpours and these downpours are short, sharp and severe. The rain comes down so hard is actually hurts causing man and beast to run for cover.

Living in the UK Brin was going to have to learn a lot about rain!

The amount of ‘accidents’ in the house increased with every wet day as his refusal to go outside became a serious problem. I decided to meet this head on and, during one of the wettest days since his homecoming, I donned hat, mac and boots and took him to the forest. Sensible people were at home and, as I sat in my car in the totally vacant car park, I wished I could do the same.

Rivers were literally pouring down the tracks and despite my coverings the rain seeped in to soak everything underneath. With one miserable looking dog by my side we ventured on our way.

One thing I did notice was his coat. He looked rather like a duck in the way the water would form into beads and run off his body leaving his undercoat totally dry. My other dogs would have been thoroughly drenched by now.

Arriving at the pond we turned to walk along a sheltered path and Brin seemed to relax and accept his fate of coping with the downpour and started to enjoy his outing.

Suddenly, from nowhere there came a dog from the bushes and with that Brin became super charged and started giving chase. Holding on with all my might, the mud beneath my feet became the perfect medium for land-surfing and, yet again, pain shot up my arm. Landing on my backside I managed to keep hold by using two hands and my feet, but still travelled along the ground at speed. The dog had long disappeared into the undergrowth and Brin had become entangled in scrub bringing him to an abrupt halt. Slowly standing up I noticed that, by a miracle, I had just missed a huge pile of fresh horse manure and, although it maybe great for roses, laying in that would have certainly clinched the deal on what had turned out to be yet another nightmare moment.

My hand was throbbing badly and fears of yet another break came to mind.

As it turned out I had dislocated my little finger which took 6 weeks to heal.

After that, Brin coped with rain and the accidents in the house decreased, apart from now and then.

 

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an early start and the cat next door…

Every year The Dogs Trust hold an Honours ceremony with various categories ranging from ‘Celebrity Pet’ to ‘Hero’ awards.

Brin had been nominated for the Hero award along side four others from many thousands entered.

This was a complete shock to me but even more so when the publicity started.

Calls from The Sun newspaper and various tv stations came flooding in and a date was set for all of them to come to our home on one day..that day being the very next day.

The Daybreak programme wanted to interview me at 6.40am and so, setting the alarm at 5.30am, I looked out of the window to see their van already waiting outside with so many satellites plastered all over the roof it was as if they were broadcasting to Mars. Brin, oblivious to his rather busy day ahead, was still asleep in his bed and as he had only been home for around 2 months I still had my concerns to how he would react to so many visitors.

Countdown began as I sat at the end of the garden while the presenter walked Brin up the garden talking, live, to the nation about his story. I then began to answer questions about his journey and all went really well until…well here is the video for you to see..

Next came the Sun newspaper who took many pics while I tried to keep Brin under control..

and after that the local radio and tv..

As exciting as all this was there was a sad side to this event.

Two months earlier a tragedy had occurred in Afghanistan when L/Cpl Tasker, a dog handler, aged only 26 had died in firefight with the Taliban and soon after his faithful companion Theo, a spaniel who had uncovered countless devises, also died through shock. Theo had also been nominated for the same award and in my mind there was no contest. How could there be? 

The public voted through a ‘hotline’ set up by The Sun newspaper and I voted for Theo. I had Brin and that was my award.

Brin came in a close second and Theo won.

The award was presented to his mother and I hope, in some small way, this helped in her terrible loss of something so precious and irreplaceable.

We will never forget.

 

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cupid’s calling…

When Brin arrived back from Afghanistan I always said that I would never forget the others.

The shelter in Kabul works tirelessly to help support a serious stray population that exploded after the Taliban invaded and forbade anyone to own a pet especially dogs, as they were seen by them as the lowest of them all.

Turned out in their droves they were left to fend for themselves in an already impoverished city.

The Afghan people originally cared well for these animals who in return guarded their livestock and homes and it was a heartbreaking time for many to see a canine family member out on the streets, confused and left to starve.

Kilo and Brin began their own Facebook page and struck up a ‘relationship’ that caused a great stir with the followers of the charity. The exchanges were funny, flirtatious and ‘romantic’ and Sue and I had great fun building up the reputation of these two falling in love, despite the fact that they had never actually met.

Kilo sent Brin a tag..

and in return Brin sent Kilo flowers…

and the dog romance grew.

Their status changed to ‘engaged’ and their popularity soared and so it was decided that we should arrange a gathering so that the many people who loved these dogs would get a chance to meet them while also raising funds for Nowzad.

Of course, there was no guarantee that these dogs would actually get along but both Sue and I were well practised in avoidance tactics and now had the biceps to prove it.

So, it was arranged that this meeting should take place in September 2011 near Birmingham as Kilo hated the car and for her it would mean less stress. Brin and I had a 3 hour journey but he enjoyed travelling. After spending so many days hidden in the back of a convoy truck in Afghanistan 3 hours would be nothing….I hoped anyway.

In the meantime, Brin’s story was becoming known by media, even more so than before. There were times, during this period, that I wondered why so many of these people had not helped me when I was desperate for support to raise funds despite my constant writing and phone calls. Now Brin was home the phone hardly stopped and one phone call proved very interesting indeed…

 

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three hours and counting…

So the day came.

Nearby there is a forest. A beautiful ancient forest entwined with history dating back to the Norman times.

I had never been there before, as my dogs had always loved the local walk than runs just behind our house. For Brin, this would not have been suitable as it’s long narrow paths were also frequented by cyclists and joggers and I felt to face the possibility of locals being eaten was not the best way forward.

Setting off on a cool spring morning I arrived at the car park and scanned the area for any sign of trouble in the form of owners and dogs. Brin was up at the window also scanning. It was all clear.

Using my ‘wait! or I will slam the door on you for next 60 minutes’ voice Brin did as he was told and I opened the door to take hold of the lead.

I did not know just how big this forest was but I could see was well trodden paths that led down into, what I hoped, would be good experience for this little brown dog..so off we went together on our first adventure ‘into the wild’.

I decided to take, what seemed, the quieter less populated path as I wanted to avoid too much confrontation on our first major walk together.

Somehow, I must have taken a wrong turn.

Deeper and deeper into thick forest we went and Brin, in his ever helpful fashion, decided to sniff each and every leaf, petal and blade of grass. This was quite incredible to watch as he would close his eyes and seemingly drink in what ever he had zoned in on. He was also incredibly stubborn.

Dogs from Afghanistan have very large, webbed feet that seem to become suction pads when they decide to stop to explore. Nothing will budge them and to save my arm from being pulled out of its socket I slowed my pace to allow him his moments. Everything was totally new to him and I really wanted him to enjoy the learning process of becoming a normal dog.

He also spent ages looking up trees until he was satisfied with whatever he was looking for wasn’t, in fact, there. Diving down critter dens, digging up mole-hills all became part of his first trek experience and soon every step was taking longer than the one before.

Eventually, we came to a clearing where a wide lake, full of ducks, rippled and glittered in the mid-day sun.

A passing Coot, who drifted by, caught Brin unawares and I suddenly had visions of swimming while hanging on to him for dear life. Thankfully, he just followed it with his eyes and continued with his endless search for the perfect smell.

Keeping an eye out for dogs, we were able to continue our walk but I seriously had no idea where we were.

Two hours later Brin and I were getting deeper and deeper into the forest and I was becoming exhausted. Because of the path we were on I had not seen or heard anyone for all that time and I had no signal on my phone.

Sitting down on tree stump to rest, Brin waited patiently by my side happily rooting around in the undergrowth. Suddenly, he shot across the path leaving me no time to react other than holding on tight to the lead.

Running with him was not an option, as he had moved so fast I had no time to stand up so ended up on my knees clinging desperately to the nearest tree, a young sapling, that lifted gracefully out of the ground and travelled with me in a peculiar dance spectacle that rivalled Fred Astaire.

Brin, thankfully, came to a sudden halt and began to bark furiously up a tree and, from where I was laying, I spied a young squirrel gazing down at me as if I was some new kind of nut.

So there and then I knew there was yet another no go item to add to my list of ‘Brin avoidance’ moments.

One hour later and I made it back to the car park, battered, covered in mud and slightly bruised but trailing a happy but tired little brown dog who jumped in the car and promptly fell asleep.

The next day I bought serious, heavy-duty walking boots in my determination to stay on my feet for longer the next time we ventured out together…

 

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