In March this year, we featured One Dog at a Time as our Doggy Snaps book club book. One Dog at a Time is the story of marine Pen Farthing’s time in Afghanistan, saving the stray dogs there from dog fights and starvation. It is a gripping account of his time in Now Zad, the friends he made there and the remarkable journey they – and he – undertook. Above all, it is the story of courage and humanity and one man’s fight to make a difference in the most hostile and dangerous environment – one dog at a time.
Pen agreed to answer any and all questions members of the club had for him and there were certainly a lot of questions! Read the full Q&A and watch a great video of Pen with two of the Now Zad dogs - all below.
How are Nowzad and Tali now, and how difficult was it to adjust them from stray/fighting dogs to british family life?
If you didn’t know any different when you look at Nowzad curled up on his big fluffy dog bed you could easily think he has been a loved house dog all his life. And for some reason he still trusts humans – figure that? Tali just wants big cuddles all the time – she is definitely Lisa’s dog – Tali’s whole body shakes when Lisa comes through the back door from work. Both Afghan dogs are not so good with fireworks or low flying aircraft – which isn’t surprising really when you think about where they used to live. FizzDog and BeamerBoy don’t mind fireworks as both went to work with me, my office was next to a shooting range!
Any news from Tali in the States?
It is actually Jena in the States – we haven’t heard that much from her – although we do know she enjoys snuggling up on the sofa and is now called Mocha after the owners realised why we had called her Jena!!!!
How’s Bear Dog coming along and has there been much interest in homing him?
Beardog was on the Paul OGrady show in the hunt to find him some owners but for some reason they wouldn’t let Lisa on the show with Beardog. Not sure of the politics there. Bear should have been named horsedog as he is so big. But really soft – he was never used for fighting even though he has no ears as he was only a puppy when they were cut off.
Have you got any more dogs in quarantine you haven’t told us about?
All the current rescues are listed on the charity website www.nowzaddogs.co.uk Arnhem – cute little miniature lab type, Wylie who is going to need a serious amount of surgery has her front legs have grown deformed from the lack of decent nourishment when she was a pup. Hannah has just been released and is living with the Marine that first scooped her up from the freezing desert floor. JACS has just flown to the States and the ‘char badmashis’ should be arriving soon in quarantine!
You say you’re an ex-marine now. Is the charity your full-time job?
We like to say former Marine……..both Lisa and I are trustees of the charity therefore we can’t get paid. However it is a full time job for me as the publicity from the book has done wonders to promote the charity but that has brought with it nearly 100 emails per day and 30-40 letters with donations and we are really only a 5 person team spread over 300 miles. We are hoping the book will do well so that I can use my royalties (we are donating over 30% of my author royalties direct to the charity) to fund my time so I can manage the day to day running of the charity – as we get bigger it will only bring with it more admin.
How have you found the general reaction to your story?
Amazing response – so many emails and letters thanking us for doing something positive and the fact that they loved the book which I am well chuffed with. I know Marines are meant to leave a girl crying in every port but I think I have managed to make more than my fair share of readers shed a tear or two as they read the book.
You seemed totally distraught by the plight of the stray dogs yet your job involves seeing human injury/loss of life on a daily basis. How do you reconcile that?
We were also totally distraught by the human tragedy in Afghanistan but what can we do? I couldn’t just pick a child up from the street and take them back to the compound with me. We had a job to do fighting the Taliban – and too many people think that the military will provide an instant solution. It doesn’t work that way. It will no doubt take several years but eventually we should be able to bring stability to Afghanistan and hope for the future generations of Afghans – all that we spoke to wanted a normal life, they were sick of the fighting. We had a job to do and we had to be very focussed – the best thing I could do for the kids was to stand between them and the Taliban when we could. The dogs were different – nobody cared if I fed the strays during a spare five minutes and the dog were in the compound – the kids weren’t. I had the time so why not do something positive rather than pretend it wasn’t there. If one of our own was injured then we dealt with it. You couldn’t go out on patrol emotionally mixed up. Remember we spend years training for that one moment in time, we all know the risks.
Were you surprised to get so emotionally caught up in the dog situation?
No – I have always been a sucker for puppy dog eyes. Although I eat meat I won’t stand animal abuse or cruelty and I am fully aware of where my chicken burger comes from. If I thought I had a chance to help a person or animal in distress then I would do it – and emotions express themselves in different ways with different people. At the end I fully expected to have to leave the dogs in the deserted compound we had found. But until that point I always had hope that I could find a solution so the dogs became a project to keep me busy and try to make a very tiny difference in a very crazy place. And when I start something I am normally very driven! Hence Nowzad Dogs now being a charity!
Have you been sidetracked into helping out UK stray dogs or do you want to remain solely focused on Afghani dogs?
Not as a charity as we have set ourselves a massive task with Afghanistan and can’t afford any distractions as money is earmarked for Afghan rescues the second we get it. But myself and Lisa are also using some of our book royalties to donate to the work of the Mayhew and Happy Landings animal rescues in the UK. I have also managed to bring home quite a few strays over the years that we have found homes for – RatDog, Zach, Idwal, Big white fatty, Sheepdog, Little Terrier and a hunt hound. Guess the dogs just know.
Your superiors must now know exactly how many dogs you looked after in the compound, and all the details about the time/resources (food etc) you invested in them. Did you ever get into trouble for your work with the dogs?
No, they didn’t – a Royal Marine Company is made up of around 50 blokes with one big boss and then the Sergeant Major and then the two Sergeants. I was one of those Sergeants and we run the show. As long as the jobs get done and the lads perform then we can operate as we want. What I did in my limited down time was up to me. As long as the dogs didn’t interfere with any of my duties then nobody was any the wiser. It also helped that we were in a remote compound getting battered by the Taliban – if we had been in one of the main bases then the dogs would have been thrown out immediately. As I said in the book – the boss gave me the nod and then looked the other way.
Have you renamed the dogs into “civi” names or have they kept their Afghan/military names?
Nowzad is still Nowzad and Tali is Tali.
Given that dog-fighting is part of Afghan culture in some areas, do you see this changing, and if so, how can this be done with the least damage to their cultural heritage?
We won’t ever stop dog fighting in Afghanistan – if we try then we will just turn people against us. It will go against the grain for some people I know but we will have to work with the Afghan people to promote animal welfare and not interfere in their way of life too much if we want to make any inroads at all. You cannot impose our ideals on a different culture and expect everyone to welcome us with open arms.
Will there be a second book?
I need to write it first but hopefully we will be in discussions with Ebury soon – you can all put in a good word for us if you want!!!
Who would you like to play you in the One Dog at a Time movie and can I order my premiere tickets now?
Bizarrely we had joking talked about this over a bottle of wine when I first started writing One Dog – I had actually said Owen Wilson – however he couldn’t wait for the opportunity to play a Royal Marine and took up the offer of the Marley and Me film. But then again he did get to kiss Jennifer Aniston a lot! So not sure now – all suggestions welcome!!!!!! Or even better it could be a Disney cartoon movie!!
How does your wife put up with you? Did she get some serious payback afterwards?
Lisa is as mad about dogs as I am. However she does tend to be the sensible one in the relationship. And remember Lisa is a Wren so she knew what she was getting when she said yes. Towards the end of the summer it is her turn to go to sea so we will see what she brings home!!!!! And thankfully I married a woman who hates shopping as much as me so we spend our money on dogs, eating out every now and again and Budweiser.