‘Pray for a miracle’ – Evacuation fears for Afghanistan animal charity Nowzad, founded in Exmouth

A former Royal Marine who set up a charity from Exmouth to rescue dogs from war-torn Afghanistan is battling to protect his staff and animals from the Taliban.

Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing is the founder of the Nowzad Rescue Charity, which he set up in 2013 while living in Exmouth after returning from Afghanistan where he served as Troop Sergeant in the Royal Marines.

Pen said the situation at the animal shelter, with the Taliban now living ‘next door’ – and his staff and animals’ lives at risk – was ‘absolutely heart breaking’. He urged people to ‘pray for a miracle’.

He said the Taliban had moved in next door to the animal shelter in Kabul; Pen has launched a social media campaign, lobbying UK politicians, to evacuate to safety his 71 Afghan staff working at the centre and vet clinic.

And he is in talks to find ways to move out the rescue animals. Nowzad has launched Operation Ark to raise £200,000 for a cargo plane to fly out as many of the rescue animals as possible.

He said the animals were currently ‘safe’ and the charity was ‘still trying’ to move them out, adding ‘we are making plans’ – promising an update would come.

Filming emotional videos about the situation in Kabul, former Exmouth resident Pen sounded choked as he spoke about the plight of the rescue animals and the Afghan nationals employed at the Nowzad shelter and vet clinic.

Pen said: “I have three young women here who are absolutely petrified of what is about to come down the road. I can get out of here. I have got a British passport. I will literally have to stand here after we have put the animals to sleep.

“Right now, I can be as determined as I want, but unless I have got a friendly country who is going to take in all these animals, and some of our staff, there’s nothing I can do.

“We have literally tried every option possible and every country we can possibly think of that we can go to.”

He said the Covid-19 pandemic had left the shelter with a ‘backlog’ of animals to rehome.

Pen said: “We could have said we’ll get a cargo plane and go to America; we can’t. And Britain has got some of the strictest quarantine import rules in the world, so we can’t get a cargo plane to England.

“I don’t want to sound ungrateful at all, I am not. I appreciate everyone’s support.

“I am 100 per cent not a religious person but if people are, start praying for a miracle – wishing for a miracle – because that’s all it’s going to take now.

“We will try and get a handful out if we can. It’s just absolutely freaking heart-breaking.”

Pen’s inspiration to set up the Nowzad charity began in 2006 while serving in Afghanistan. He rescued several starving and abandoned dogs – despite this being strictly against orders.

He saved one dog from a dog fighting ring – naming it Nowzad – transporting the animal back to live with him in the UK.

Pen set up the charity, naming it after the dog he rescued, while he was living in Exmouth.

This week he urged people living in the UK to lobby six specific UK politicians to help his Nowzad team relocate to England.

He encouraged supporters to bombard MPs Wendy Morton, James Cleverly, Dominic Raab, Zac Goldsmith, Tariq Ahmad and Ben Wallace, through their social media channels.

Filmed standing outside the animal shelter in the lunchtime Afghanistan heat, Pen said: “The Taliban have actually moved in next door to our shelter and clinic here in Kabul. They haven’t come to see us yet, but they are living next door.

“For us here at Nowzad we’re are coming to the end game. I cannot leave until my staff have left Afghanistan. They are not safe here.”

He urged the public to send Twitter, Facebook and Instagram messages to the MPs, highlighting the plight of the Nowzad staff, imploring them to help.

“Let them know please that we truly do need their support to get the Nowzad team out of what is going to become an absolute hellhole that we have sadly been responsible for creating,” said Pen.

“We have come down to the last few days, so please, please message those people. They’re the ones now with the power to make a real positive difference out of this absolute carnage of an operation to leave Afghanistan

“It’s not going to make a difference to Afghanistan, but we are going to make a difference to 71 people.”

Pen said he did not want to put any financial ‘burden’ on the British people, helping his staff escape to safety.

He said funds raised by the charity’s supporters would be used to finance the Nowzad team once they arrived in the UK.

Pen said: “I don’t want to put a burden on the British taxpayer. That’s the last thing I want to do – and because of you, our absolutely amazing Nowzad supporters, we are raising funds.”

He added: “Please keep those funds coming in to be there for our team when they arrive in England so they can be supported.

“We have got people there who are offering them scholarships, to get our vets retrained under the British schemes; job opportunities.

“We are not just going to leave our people – if they get to England – to be a burden on the British taxpayer. I will not let that happen.

“I want to get them out of this place. I am not going to leave them to the mercy of what is about to come.

“They did absolutely nothing wrong but they have been put in the most horrendous position ever because of mistakes that sadly we as the west made in Afghanistan.”

The Nowzad Dogs Charity, founded by  former Royal Marine Paul ‘Pen’ Farthing while living in Exmouth, was  in 2013 crowned charity of the year at the JustGiving Awards, held in the same year.

The charity was initially set up to rescue abandoned and starving dogs in war-torn Afghanistan.

Nowzad was the first officially-recognised animal shelter in Afghanistan. It now takes in and rehomes hundreds of animals, including dogs, cats, donkeys and horses.

  • Donate to Operation Ark here.

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