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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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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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