Pen Farthing praises troops who helped bring 170 cats and dogs to UK

I’m so glad we made it: Charity boss Pen Farthing praises British troops who helped bring 170 cats and dogs to UK amid chaos in Afghanistan

The former marine revealed almost all of his 170 Afghan strays have already been lined up for loving British homes

Pen Farthing yesterday praised the ‘phenomenal’ efforts of British troops in getting his animals to the UK.

The former marine revealed almost all of his 170 Afghan strays have already been lined up for loving British homes.

But he said five cats lost their lives on the first leg of the journey due to the effects of the trauma of the Isis-K airport bombing and subsequent tear gas.

Mr Farthing, 52, landed at Heathrow yesterday, where he oversaw the safe removal of his 70 rescue cats and 100 dogs into the care of animal welfare experts.

Bandaged and bruised from heaving their crates during a gruelling trip from Kabul to Uzbekistan and on to London, Mr Farthing promised not to rest until he is reunited with his loyal Afghan staff.

Largely unaware of the Government’s alleged ‘smear campaign’ against him – and the leaking of an explosive voicemail in which he threatened to ‘destroy’ one of the Defence Secretary’s advisers – he said he could not even remember leaving the message. 

‘I haven’t seen what has been said about me so I can’t really comment’, he told the Daily Mail.

Mr Farthing credited the work of British forces on the ground in Kabul during the chaotic withdrawal.

‘From the second I met the British troops, during the Taliban-British handover, oh my God, those guys were absolutely amazing, fantastic,’ he said. ‘The marines and the Army tend to have a little bit of a rivalry, but I could not have been happier to see them at the checkpoint.

‘We only had an hour to put the animals in in Kabul. Some American troops on the airfield said ‘are you the dog guy?’, and they dropped everything to help. The guys all came around, people who were off duty came over, and said what can we do to help. And within one hour we had the animals all on board.

‘It was amazing to be back in that fold of military people who actually cared, and are passionate about the Afghans and their plight.’

Mr Farthing, who was met at Heathrow by a team of vets, added: ‘As the animals came off on the tarmac at Heathrow, I think they were shocked and stressed after that journey, but as they were coming off, I hope they knew they were going to somewhere safe. A lot of the animals are already adopted. We are not short of offers so I don’t think we will have much trouble rehoming the rest.’

Vet Dr Iain McGill had earlier said he had examined ‘more than 150 healthy dogs and cats from [the charity] Nowzad in Kabul’.

Mr Farthing, 52, landed at Heathrow yesterday, where he oversaw the safe removal of his 70 rescue cats and 100 dogs into the care of animal welfare experts

Mr Farthing’s supporter Dominic Dyer last night tweeted pictures of three of the dogs, writing: ‘Wonderful to see Nowzad dogs coming back from Afghanistan at Heathrow today, looking so fit and well despite the MoD smear campaign claiming they would need to be put down.’

On the cats who died during the journey, Mr Farthing said: ‘We had a veterinarian fly out to [Uzbekistan] to meet us and we did everything we could for them but sadly it was too late.’

He said 25 staff and 46 dependents are entitled to resettle in the UK, but he was fearful that the Taliban would stem the flow of emigration after Western troops leave. 

‘We all had a massive emotional cry. They said to me you can’t do anything more for us here, you must leave, so I had to go,’ he said.

Referring to military and charity efforts at the end of a 20-year conflict, he said: ‘Everything we worked for all these years is gone.

‘It is what it is, you can blame who you want but it has gone back to just how it was before we arrived.’

Mr Farthing is now heading to Oslo to reunite with his wife. ‘I can’t wait to see my wife and to hold her. I think there will be some tears.

‘We will probably have a night off, have a glass of red wine, and then tomorrow we will be straight back on it seeing how we can get the guys over here where they belong.’

How his animal army brought comfort to so many

Stranded amid the horror unfolding in Kabul, the plight of Pen Farthing and his animal rescue group Nowzad struck at the heart of pet lovers around the world.

Pen was a Royal Marine who, during his 2006 deployment to Afghanistan, saw first-hand the plight of the stray dogs and cats that roamed the town of Nawzad.

But rather than being a nuisance, they brought solace to many British servicemen and women there, later inspiring him to found his charity called Nowzad. It has since rehomed more than 1,700 animals – many with soldiers who formed bonds with them on the front lines.

Here, Beth Hale talks to some of the military adopters about the animals they brought into their homes – and hearts.

Mutt we took in to honour our fallen son

Tony Lewis and wife Sandi, 58, (pictured below) welcomed crossbreed Pegasus into their Warwickshire home in 2011.

It was a bittersweet homecoming for a mutt who was meant to be starting a new life in the UK with their son, Conrad, a 22-year-old paratrooper (pictured above) who was killed by a Taliban sniper in Helmand that year.

Tony, 59, said: ‘Conrad was on his first tour of duty in 2010 when he met Pegasus. In one of his first letters home he mentioned there were a couple of dogs in camp and Peg was one of them. He told us he had taught her to sit and give paw for a biscuit, something she still remembered how to do months later.

It was a bittersweet homecoming for a mutt who was meant to be starting a new life in the UK with their son, Conrad, a 22-year-old paratrooper (pictured above) who was killed by a Taliban sniper in Helmand that year

‘She wasn’t trained like a military dog, but when the soldiers went out on patrol she’d go with them – she would notice if the ground was disturbed or anything was different.

‘That Christmas, 2010, was lovely. Conrad came home on leave and talked about Peg. I can remember him saying, ‘Look, I’ve heard there are people who get these dogs back. We need to get her back’.

‘We had resolved to do this, but sadly he died five weeks later, shot by a sniper. There are no words to describe the loss of Conrad, but one of the last requests he gave us… was to get Pegasus home. With the help of the Parachute Regiment, [Nowzad] managed to evacuate Peg by helicopter and then drive her to Kabul.

‘My wife summed it up at the time, ‘I can’t help my son any more, but I can help his dog’. She felt there was a bit of him in Peg and she deserved to get back to live in leafy Warwickshire.’

Tony Lewis and wife Sandi, 58, (pictured) welcomed crossbreed Pegasus into their Warwickshire home in 2011

Sara Manning, 49, and husband Philip, 46, adopted their dog, also called Pegasus (after the Paratrooper emblem), in 2011, following Philip befriending the orphaned puppy while on deployment in Afghanistan.

Sara Manning, 49, and husband Philip, 46, adopted their dog, also called Pegasus (after the Paratrooper emblem), in 2011, following Philip befriending the orphaned puppy while on deployment in Afghanistan

Sara said: ‘Pegasus was born in my husband’s camp in Nad-e-Ali in October 2010. Her mum gave birth to nine puppies, but she and five of the others were killed, leaving four of them who were unofficially adopted by the camp – they were fed on pieces of steak and I think Pegasus was quite naughty!

‘The minute Philip sent me and our four children a photograph of this tiny ball of fluff, I knew we had to have him. I also knew that if someone didn’t adopt him he would probably be shot. Whenever health and safety officers came into camp, Philip would hide Pegasus to keep him safe.

‘Philip contacted Nowzad, who ended up helping rescuing all four dogs, although we didn’t end up adopting all four.

‘[They] travelled in some style home, taking part of the journey in an armoured convoy – it was quite unbelievable to see pictures. They had to stay in Kabul at the Nowzad sanctuary for a while before Pegasus was flown to the UK. Home for us is now in Australia, where we moved in 2017, when Philip [pictured with Pegasus] joined the Australian Defence Force.

‘Pegasus loves it. He has a hip problem but we moved this year to a house by the beach. It’s given him a new lease of life. Then, seven weeks ago we got a new puppy Freyja, who wasn’t adopted through Nowzad, which has made Pegasus even more joyful. I can never thank Pen and his team enough.’

Dusty tabby who became my soulmate

Donna Matthews, 57, from Shropshire, is a former Wren who was volunteering for the Ministry of Defence, running a team of mechanics at Camp Bastion when she met two cats – siblings, who she named C-For (derived from the phrase ‘C is for cat’) and Trevor, in 2012.

She found them after hearing a faint meow from underneath her accommodation block. 

Donna said: ‘I really bonded with C-For. We became soulmates – he listened to all my problems and I watched over him as he slept. I suppose he was a bit of normality in a very abnormal situation.’

After she nearly lost him in an explosion, she organised with Nowzad to have C-For (pictured) and Trevor rehomed.

‘Trevor went to live with one of my colleagues, but C-For came to me. He was with me until last year, when sadly he developed kidney failure. But without Nowzad, my darling boy would never have made it to the Shropshire countryside.’

Donna Matthews, 57, from Shropshire, is a former Wren who was volunteering for the Ministry of Defence, running a team of mechanics at Camp Bastion when she met two cats – siblings, who she named C-For (derived from the phrase ‘C is for cat’) and Trevor, in 2012

Helped me out of my slump 

Louise Crump, 36, and her husband Mark, 46, a flight lieutenant with the RAF, adopted Cookie in 2016. He lives with them in Aberdeenshire.

Louise said that 2016 ‘was a tough year’ for her. She added: ‘I was struggling badly with depression, which was really affecting my job [as a training administrator] and my home life.

‘One day in July, I made a rash decision to contact Nowzad and offer a dog a home. As soon as I saw Cookie’s picture I fell in love with her.’

Louise said adopting Cookie (pictured below left) was ‘life-changing’.

She made new friends while fundraising £3,000 to help Nowzad get Cookie out of Afghanistan and even ran a marathon ‘despite feeling that I could never have the mental or physical energy to do it’. She said: ‘I was spurred on by the thoughts of not letting Cookie down.’

Louise Crump, 36, and her husband Mark, 46, a flight lieutenant with the RAF, adopted Cookie (left) in 2016. He lives with them in Aberdeenshire

Nurse won over by the cats from Camp Bastion

Zia Vennoyer, 56, was working as a civilian nurse for the British embassy in Kabul, when she met cats Bruiser and Snowball, adopted with Nowzad’s help in 2019.

Zia said: ‘I had already gone out to Camp Bastion six times between 2009 and 2014 as a contractor nurse when I took up a position as an embassy nurse in Kabul.

‘Bruiser was already there when I arrived, living in the area near to my little home and within a very short time, I found myself accidentally adopting him, after feeding him a few times.

‘Snowball [pictured] appeared about six months later, a little scruffy kitten who was completely feral.

‘She had made herself a home under the shipping containers we lived in and would come out to scavenge for food. Of course, I started feeding her and she started to follow me around.

‘She was quite timid, until one night she found the courage to walk in to my accommodation with me – and once in she wasn’t going to leave!’

She added: ‘For me, Bruiser and Snowball were a little bit of normality amid the constant extreme vigilance. I guess we had a common shared experience. When it came to returning to the UK, there was no doubt they would come with me, so I fundraised and Nowzad took care of all the logistics of getting the cats out in 2019.

‘They are both seven years old now, both thriving at my home near Hull. Snowball is a Persian princess and Bruiser is feisty but affectionate.’

Zia Vennoyer, 56, was working as a civilian nurse for the British embassy in Kabul, when she met cats Bruiser and Snowball, adopted with Nowzad’s help in 2019

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