Sunday 29 August 2021

Pen Farthing flew back to the UK last night with his menagerie of animals rescued by the Nowzad charity

Mr Paul 'Pen' Farthing and his rescued cats and dogs from his Nowzad animal rescue charity based in Kabul, Afghanistan, landed at Heathrow airport last night and immediately took a connecting flight to Oslo to see his wife who had left Afghanistan last week. The cats and dogs are in quarantine and they will remain there for four months as per the usual procedures. This will obviously be a very difficult time for them to add to the trauma already suffered.

The cats and dogs in Kabul on the way to the airport
Some of the cats and dogs in Kabul on the way to the airport. They were probably offloaded to get air. Photo: The Daily Mail.

I understand that his flight from Kabul went via Muscat. Initially the reports were that he was going to fly to Uzbekistan first and then on to Heathrow. Mr Farthing said that he has mixed emotions in his tweet which stated:

"Arrived Heathrow with partial success of #OpArk Mixed emotions & true deep feeling of sadness for Afghan today. Heathrow Ops centre, Border Force, HARC & Air Pets were all bloody amazing. Witnessed 1st hand the compassion Heathrow is showing Afghan refugees."

Mr Farthing's tweet on landing
Mr Farthing's tweet on landing.

To be clear, he used a privately funded chartered jet for the evacuation operation. He did not commandeer any military plane and therefore we did not take any seats for people. In fact, he offered available seats on his plane but there were no takers. This runs entirely counter to what we read in the news media that a lot of people qualified to evacuate Kabul have been left behind. Why couldn't they have been found and placed on Mr Farthing's flight?

Also, to be clear, Mr Farthing has evacuated 94 dogs and 79 cats as I recall. A large number indeed but some animals have been left behind at Nowzad. The report indicate that Nowzad is currently closed because the staff are at home perhaps for their own safety. The staff could have evacuated because they were issued with visas but because of the chaos and complications of getting to the airport they couldn't make it. I think the Taliban stopped them.

Mr Farthing blames the MoD for being obstructive and an audio recording is on my website of Mr Farthing leaving a voicemail on Peter Quentin's answerphone in which he threatens him. At that time Mr Farthing was obviously very desperate to get his animals out. There is quite a big discussion about Mr Farthing's behaviour but I wholly support him because he was under great stress as were the animals. And it does seem that the MoD was being obstructive. They appear to have decided that the optics, to use a modern term, were not good if animals were seen to be evacuated before people.

Indeed, there are people now, quite senior people, who are continuing to criticise Mr Farthing for evacuating animals over people. But that is entirely incorrect because Mr Farthing was adding to the aircraft inventory at Kabul airport and was not taking away one of the military aircraft. He was adding seats and therefore had the right to evacuated animals. In fact, he offered seats for people on that particular flight but there were no takers. And he says that you can't put people in the hold where there are cats and dogs because it is not allowed.

You have to admire Mr Farthing and his forcefulness for achieving this. And for setting up Nowzad in the first place. It would not have been set up without this kind of forceful personality. The issues now do not go away because the animals concerned will have to leave quarantine, all being well, and be rehomed. And there are issues back in Kabul to do with animal welfare because Nowzad which he founded will now have to be entirely about rescuing animals in the region rather than reuniting support animals with military personnel who have returned home. This will be a repositioning of the operation as I see it. How will they manage to do this and will they be successful?

And the evacuation of Americans and the military is going to weaken animal rescue and animal welfare in Afghanistan. A lot of money was sloshing around which help animal welfare. That's going to go away because the donations were provided to operations like Nowzad on the basis that animals were reunited with military personnel. Will Nowzad be able to raise that kind of money to rescue cats and dogs that were owned by Afghanistan citizens?

One British politician, Tom Tugendhat has criticised a decision to use soldiers to evacuate Mr Farthing's animals while the lives of Afghans who assisted the British were under threat. I think he's wrong and being melodramatic. As mentioned, Mr Farthing added to the aircraft inventory. He added seats and did not take them away. And why shouldn't animals have some rights as well? Even under the most severe circumstances. Why should people be always superior to animals under these circumstances?

The story actually divides people between those who care about animals and those who don't. But for me, it is entirely correct that the animals were evacuated. We're talking about less than 200 animals that have been rescued from Kabul compared to 100,000+ people. Is that not fair, sensible and reasonable?

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