The Dog Days of Kabul

J2E – Afghanistan – In Afghanistan, there is a breed of dog called the Kuchi, or Anatolian shepherd. Dog fighting in Afghanistan is an unofficial national sport, and Kuchis are the ideal competitor. Fearless and massive, the animal has crushing jaws, a heavy skull, muscular shoulders and chest and long limbs and hindquarters.

For millennia, Kuchi dogs protected flocks of sheep and goats from predators like jackals. Today, the animal’s fighting prowess is exploited every Friday on the Muslim weekly holy day. Following prayers, the men of Afghanistan retire to a dusty dog-fighting ring where Kuchis—tails and ears docked— are pitted against one another. Thousands of dollars are bet on the outcome. Former British Royal Marine Pen Farthing rescued a Kuchi while on a tour of duty in war-torn Helmand province, an act of kindness that snowballed into a national rescue centre for stray cats and dogs called Nowzad Dogs. Adopting strays as pets was common among troops stationed in Afghanistan while fighting Taliban insurgents. Having a dog by your side, says Farthing, allowed the soldiers to “pretend for five minutes that you were back home instead of being bombed by the Taliban.”

The huge fellow pictured here, rescued from the dog-fighting ring, is called Sherak, which means ‘little lion.’ He lives with Farthing at the Nowzad Dogs shelter in Kabul. Sherak will not die of starvation, rabies, being shot at, poisoned, run over or torn apart in a dog-fighting ring, making him one of the lucky few. (Dogs are poisoned in Afghanistan because they carry rabies: 1,000 people in Kabul died after being bitten by rapid dogs last year, according to Farthing.)

Pregnant or with litters, abandoned, injured or feral—all are brought to the shelter to be vaccinated, spayed or neutered, socialized and adopted out. Some feral dogs cannot be socialized and bite if approached. Nonetheless, Farthing says, homes are found for them, too.

Nowzad Dogs is a charity, and depends upon donations to sustain operations, says Farthing, who retired from the marines three years ago to lead mountain climbing charity treks to raise money. Check out the centre’s video at

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