In a country ravaged by war, where dogfights are a popular pastime
in many places, it's safe to say that animal welfare is quite far down Afghanistan's list of priorities.
Nonetheless, moves are afoot to improve the lot of animals in the country. Senior government officials have expressed their abhorrence
of abuses such as dogfighting and have vowed to do their best to bring an end to such mistreatment.
The Nowzad charity
is one organization that is doing its best to aid such efforts.
This dog shelter was founded by former Royal Marine Pen Farthing,
who was deployed in the Afghan town of Now Zad in 2006.
"During that time, I broke up an organized dogfight being held by the Afghan police," he told RFE/RL in an e-mail interview.
"One of those dogs from the fight ran back into our compound, where over the course of a few days he adopted me. During my six-month deployment, that dog -- that we had now named Nowzad due to the Afghan town we were deployed in -- became my buddy and helped me deal with the stress of fighting in Afghanistan. At the end of the tour of duty, I arranged a cunning plan to rescue Nowzad to the U.K. and my home."
When word spread about how Farthing and a couple of pals had managed to rescue some dogs
from Afghanistan, other international military personnel got in touch with him. He soon realized that he was not the only foreign soldier who had befriended a dog while serving there.
Consequently, using his spare bedroom at home in England, he set about helping them bring their four-legged buddies home once they had been demobilized.
Since then, with the help of donations
and volunteers, his Nowzad charity has "grown massively over the last few years."
Over time, the organization has moved from helping ex-soldiers repatriate animals they had adopted to also taking care of distressed animals brought to them by Afghans.
"Now that our name is getting out amongst the local Afghan nationals, we have animals being brought to us all the time for treatment or to be looked after," says Farthing. "We have now implemented a local Afghan adoption program to try and re-home our suitable residents once [they're] neutered and vaccinated."
The famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi about how "the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” is displayed prominently on Nowzad's website.
Farthing suggests that Afghans don't fare badly when measured by this yardstick, despite occasional reports of dogfights and mistreatment.
"In general, most Afghans are actually positive towards animal welfare," he says. "Sadly, though, war and the Taliban have meant that just living day to day has been the priority. But they are willing to be educated to promote their developing society."
Farthing is also quick to point out that the treatment of animals can also be a problem for developed nations like Britain and the United States.
"Our countries have numerous animal welfare organizations working flat out, yet the U.K. and the U.S.A. still have people that treat animals with total disregard for their welfare," he says. "In the end, we are not really that different."
Given the myriad challenges
facing Afghanistan at the moment, one would think that animal welfare would be the least of the country's worries, but Farthing insists that treating animals better could have a major impact on the quality of life there.
"Of course, animal welfare is not the major priority, but that is because of a lack of understanding," he says. "Rabies is a major concern in Afghanistan, along with the treatment of working mules. A very basic education package requiring limited funding would make a huge difference to Afghan communities, still allowing for other human issues to be addressed as the priority."
-- Coilin O'Connor