Nowzad's story starts in 2006, when Pen was serving in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, and broke up an organised dog fight.
The dog that started it all
One of the dogs was visibly in pain – his ears and tail had been brutally docked prior to the fight. So Pen decided he would look after him. He named his new friend Nowzad, after the town his forward operating base was located in.
So it's no surprise that by the end of the tour of duty, Pen could not bear to leave Nowzad behind. But the military would not support the rescue of a dog.
That didn't stop Pen, though. He hatched a plan to have Nowzad smuggled from their FOB to Kabul by a local driver, and then to have him flown to Pakistan before another flight to the UK.
But it turns out Pen wasn't the only one interested in repatriating an animal to his home country:
“Once my story made the local papers I was inundated with requests from other soldiers for support with their own dogs and cats they had been looking after on the front lines in Afghanistan.”
This demand wasn’t entirely surprising to Pen. He understood that a cat or a dog could be the unique source of positivity in an otherwise stressful tour of duty. He knew what it was like to spend five minutes pretending he wasn’t in Afghanistan by just stroking or playing with his four-legged friend. He knew that animals could bring unconditional love to soldiers, no matter what their day had been like. And, more than anything, he knew the heart-wrenching pain of having to consider leaving a friend behind, one with which a yearlong familial bond has been built; without ever being able to make the animal understand why.
He knew he had to help these soldiers and their pets. So he formed a charity which he named Nowzad, after his beloved dog.
Helping to connect human with animal
To date, the Nowzad charity has helped reunite soldiers with over 1500 dogs and cats, who have been sent away to their forever homes all over the world, including the UK.
However, the charity rescues many strays and therefore welcomes adoption applications from anyone who’s able to offer a secure and loving home, and who’s willing to put in the effort! Indeed, a lot of organisation is required to transport an animal around the globe, and it’s expensive too - $5000 is the average cost!
Don't let that put you off though – Nowzad is very serious about its adoption process. They only offer up animals who are friendly and would adapt well to a Western-world style of living. Before travelling, the animals are spayed or neutered, vaccinated for rabies, distemper, and parvo, as well as given flea, tick and worm treatment.
Then, potential adopters are subject to home checks and asked for references, just as they would be when dealing with any other large rehoming centre in the UK.
Much more than a rescue
Incredibly, the Nowzad charity does a lot more than just rescue animals and send them off to their forever homes.
For example, they provide employment for locals: their staff is made up of 24 Afghan nationals.
Thanks to their professionally run clinic, they are able to provide medical treatment to a large number of stray or injured cats, dogs, and even donkeys. Thanks to their Animal Hero award, which provides recognition for local people who do not ignore an animal in need, an increasing amount of Afghans call upon Nowzad for help. Nowzad's clinic also offers free rabies and neutering services for all Afghan nationals who bring in their owned cat or dog.
Nowzad provides educational opportunities too. Their clinic offers a ‘hands-on’ practical training program for Afghanistan vet students in their fourth or fifth year. In fact, Nowzad trains 200 students on average per year!
The clinic also provides internships for veterinarians who have completed their studies. This provides them with the skills and experience they will need to set up a practise themselves one day in their own local communities.
A place of hope
Despite having seen so much during the 22 years he spent as a Royal Marine Commando, Pen continues to feel inspired daily by the people and animals he works with every day.
He need only take a glance at Dakota, his office dog, who just months ago was severely injured in a grave road traffic incident. He might not have made it, but his will to live got him to where he is today – chilling in the sunlight by the office door and seeking out his next cuddle buddy.
“Dakota has to be the most loving dog ever”.
More than anything, Pen is continually amazed by his Afghan team:
The work Nowzad does is incomparable. They make a real difference in the world, in so many different ways. Their shelter is currently full, as they are unable to send any animals home due to the Coronavirus pandemic and consequent travel bans.