With so much human suffering in war-torn countries, the animals often get overlooked.
For every family huddled in a basement during an air raid there’s a mother cat trying to get her kittens to safety as forces she can’t comprehend rend the sky and shatter the Earth. For every shoeless kid playing in the mud, there’s a rib-thin dog nosing through the trash for a morsel.
But not everyone looks past them: More than 1,000 American service members have adopted cats and dogs from Afghanistan alone, according to the country’s only animal shelter.
“When you think about a soldier that’s been on the front lines for years, away from family and friends, that animal has probably been one of the only positive things throughout the whole process,” said Pen Farthing, a former member of the UK’s military who founded Nowzad, the sole clinic and shelter for animals in Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Dan Brissey is one of them. The Delaware man, who was deployed to Kabul with the Maryland National Guard as an engineer, found himself caring for an orphan kitten during his deployment.
He named the kitten Sully and, knowing he couldn’t leave Afghanistan without her, reached out to Farthing and Nowzad.
Taking an animal back home is prohibitively expensive, Farthing said, with airlines charging a premium to fly animals from countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.
They don’t provide discounts for the service, and in all it costs more than $3,000 to bring a cat back to the US and more than $5,000 for a dog.
Brissey paid a hefty sum, then turned to the internet to help raise the rest, and raise people did: Not only have they covered the cost to bring Sully back, there was enough left over to bring her more feral sister to the US as well. Both kittens will live with Brissey and his family.
A common response to stories like this is “Why are we helping animals when so many people need help?”
The truth is, they’re not mutually exclusive things. A guy like Brissey spends his entire deployment working on civic projects to benefit the locals. Service members build critical infrastructure like water lines and power stations. They repair roads, keep neighborhoods safe and restore schools.
And in addition to the humanitarian aid distributed directly by the US, thousands of NGOs are on the ground in those countries, using private donations to staff medical clinics and build new housing. Americans are exceedingly generous when it comes to charitable giving.
So it’s not one or the other. We can help people as well as animals. A thousand dogs and cats helped by Nowzad in Afghanistan might not seem like much, but to each of them it makes a life of difference.
For people accustomed to living in peace, with well-funded animal charities taking cats and dogs off the streets, it’s difficult to imagine the reality on the ground in war-torn countries.
“There has been no form of stray animal control in Afghanistan now for nearly 40 years, because of various ongoing conflicts,” Farthing said. “There are stray dogs on every single street corner.”
For American service personnel — many of whom are animal lovers — helping just seems like the right thing to do.
“I just want to do what I can for her,” Brissey told military.com “Take care of her and give her a good home.”