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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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a word of advise…

Other problems were arising.

Brin had a dislike of young men, sudden footsteps and doorways.

Wherever I was, Brin would be stuck to me like glue and because of this he took to protecting me from everything and everyone, including my youngest son.

I had become his lifeline and he was going to make sure I was always in his sight.

The dogs also became a little wary and would slink around trying to become invisible and this was not a good situation to be in.

Discipline was not going to be easy for it had taken so long to gain his trust that any form of deprivation or punishment by removing him completely from a situation was going to be tough so I sought advise from a trainer.

Brin greeted her on her arrival and we spent a while talking about his past and the problems that were occurring. She agreed this was no ‘ordinary’ dog but we already knew that.

Although I had worked hard with him already and taught him to stay, sit and wait the issues of protecting me were the real focus of why I needed help.

Out came ‘Clickers’, treats and toys from a very hefty black bag and my heart sank. This was not a dog that could be tricked and despite all she was telling me I knew that none of this was going to make a difference to Brin. Contempt came from his eyes as he listened to the clicker click away in his ear as if say ‘really?…you think that is going to work on me?..fat chance’…

I then sought further advise from an animal healer friend who has worked with all kinds of animals and achieved amazing results. Pippa came and spent time just sitting with Brin and laying her hands across his back. To witness his reaction was humbling and he lay on the ground as if melting away. There were few people that could touch him like this as his ribcage and tail area were extremely sensitive, both mentally and physically, to this dog who had suffered such horrific abuse at the hands of the Taliban.

Two more sessions later and the difference in him was becoming evident and, although, he would never become a totally relaxed soul, he seemed to be starting to let go of many of the tensions that overshadowed his recovery.

One of the problems I had, and eventually solved, was Brin leaping from the car whenever I opened the door to let him out. This could be pretty frightening, especially near the busy road where I live. I had begun to learn my own ‘superpowers’ and managed to achieve complex physical contortions that I had no idea I was capable of while trying to stop him flying through the door. In my frustration, when one day he leapt over the parcel shelf and out of the open boot, I took to extreme measures.

In a quiet street I parked up and went to open the door. Brin was ready for action but I was quicker. Every time I opened the door I would slam it shut, causing him to back away onto the seat. Every time I did this I would shout ‘wait!’. Over and over I did this, until I was exhausted and he had stopped rushing forward. It took, in all, over 2 hours in total. I drove my car to another area and repeated the whole exercise and to my amazement Brin made no moves towards the door as I opened it and I was able to reach in and take his lead.

To this day Brin will not come out of the car unless I say so, even if my other dogs have left already. It was a huge relief and I was able to feel less on a knife-edge every time I took him out.

Our next step would be the forest…

 

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a sharp intake of breath…

Things went well for a while.

Short walks in quiet places helped to steal my nerves for the introduction to a wider world and eventually the forest.

Relationships with our cat Cornelius was a definite no-no as Brin had not had a good relationship with them back in Afghanistan. Feral cats are everywhere, especially around anywhere where food can be found.

Brin had to be tied up during the day, after his rescue from the Taliban, as it was felt it was too risky for him to roam free with the lads while they went on patrol.

Although not ideal for a dog used to walking miles through harsh terrain, his recent kidnap and rescue made him a real target, and also for anyone seen with him.

Brin would sit and wait for the lads to return, but added to his boredom and frustration there was the annoyance of the cats who would tease him by sneaking into the kitchen nearby. He would try to get them away but, restrained by his lead, he was unable to fulfil his mission. So, cats were not on his ‘let’s be friends’ list anymore and Cornelius, who had always been a house cat, retired to the attic room where my husband works.

Our dogs had settled well with Brin, particularly Dennis our youngest, who was always up for a game despite being 11 years old and a bit wobbly on his hind legs.

They would chase each other up and down the garden and all was fine until one day something went badly wrong.

By my backdoor there is a passageway leading down to the lawn and it is quite narrow. Now caring for four dogs it became quite a squeeze when they all wanted to come in at the same time.

Brin, still in his early days of learning, wanted to be at the front and, unbeknownst to me, in amongst all the bodies lay a toy…a small fluffy toy dropped by Brin on his way out.

I had so far kept a watchful eye on the toy situation as this had already caused a few grumbles due to possession issues. Both Dennis and Brin loved toys but for Brin they were his total focus..his treasures.

Without warning a deep growl went up and before I could get in-between them Brin and Dennis became locked in battle. Fur was flying and clashing teeth became a blur. The other two dogs moved swiftly away and I could see that Brin was totally focused on Dennis who was unknowingly still standing over the toy.

I grabbed Brin’s collar, aware that I too could be hurt, but instinct made me want to protect Dennis from further harm. Brin twisted away as I held on tight and in doing so a sharp pain shot up my arm. Dennis moved back as Brin released his grip on him and shouting for help my son came to the door to allow my three collies to enter the house leaving me alone with Brin, who had quickly calmed down.

Releasing him slowly I stood back to shake off the shock as I had never witnessed a battle such as this.

It really brought me down with a thud and, as I stood looking at Brin and nursing my now broken wrist,

I wondered if I had really taken on more than I had bargained for…

 

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a wide berth…

Time was looming to expose Brin to the outside world and, although I was longing to show him around to explore, I also knew that this too would be one of his famous learning curves.

I had befriended a lady named Sue, who also cared for a dog from Afghanistan. This dog is named Kilo and was found just outside of Kabul and had also survived many awful experiences. Nowzad also brought her to the UK.

Sue had been my ‘rock’ for many months, especially when it was getting close to Brin coming home. She shared with me things that she had been through and supported me when I was feeling nervous about the future and living with him full time. She was, and still is, one of my closest friends and we have always worked hard together to promote the stories of so many dogs and cats that are waiting for the same chance as our two.

Sue told me that Kilo always taken out on two leads. These are powerful dogs who will react instinctually and by doing so the ground can literally disappear from under your feet. They are also canine Houdini’s, slipping out of collars as if coated in butter.

So, I heeded her warning and Brin was suitably decked out with collar and harness, two leads and one spare incase of the swift chomp action he executed so well.

I decided to take him to a small patch of land first.

Pevensey Castle has sloping grounds with pathways leading well away from the main drag. I felt that this would be a good place to start as it gave me areas to move to if Brin took a dislike to anyone, or their dog.

Things went well to begin with and Brin spent ages sniffing the grass and anything else that was in his path. My other three dogs have always been wonderful on walks and never, in all the years we have had them, has there ever been a fight or aggression shown towards people or animals.

Brin, it seemed, was going to be a very different kettle of fish.

This showed when he spied his first dog, way in distance.

I wasn’t fully prepared for the shear strength it would take to hold him back. He rose up into the air, growling and barking so loudly that everyone turned to look. Now I knew why two leads were needed! They were pulled so taut I really felt they would snap.

Brin, who had hardly made a sound in quarantine, and barked only occasionally at home, was now in full throttle. I held onto him with all my might and eventually he began to calm down. What I did notice was, however, while all the main action was going on up front that his tail was wagging as well. It was as though he was totally confused as to how to react to other dogs and that this was not aggression at all… but fear. Brin was actually frightened and this was his way of saying ‘back off’.

So, for the next few weeks I took him to a place that was often deserted in the winter months not only to allow him to get used to the lead but to gain the necessary strength so that when faced with such a situation again I would be ready…hopefully!

 

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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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