In the deserts and scrublands of Afghanistan, they call him Dr Doolittle because of his amazing affinity with waifs and strays in the animal kingdom, particularly dogs desperately searching for a loyal owner.
The Express reports that while pursuing the Taliban Royal Marine commando Pen Farthing was so moved by the plight of neglected animals in the war ravaged country that he vowed to fight for them himself when he returned to civvy street.
And when he quit 42 commando he fulfilled that promise, so far rescuing 900 strays and reuniting them with soldiers scattered around the world, including 200 in Britain.
Now the ex-troop sergeant wants to inspire Sunday Express readers to nominate people with exceptional stories about their amazing relationships with animals.
The Sunday Express supported Soldiering On Awards charity wants nominations for nine categories by September 30. And today Pen, 47, calls on our readers to put people up for the Animal Partnership Award, which he won last year for the astonishing work he has done with canines in Afghanistan. He hopes his story of perseverance against the odds will inspire others to greatness.
While based in a town called Nowzad between 2006 and 2007 he lost two comrades and broken his ankle. As a tough marine, it was difficult to show his emotions but he sensed the injustice when he saw an arranged dog fight and broke it up.
One of the dogs, which had had its ears and tail cut off to make it fiercer, ran into the marine base and when Pen found him huddled in a corner he realised they would be friends for life.
When his tour of duty ended he arranged for the dog he named Nowzad to be flown to Britain, via Islamabad and they had many happy years together until he passed away naturally two years ago.
Pen said: “When I got Nowzad back I thought it would be great to help other soldiers to be reunited with the animals they had befriended while serving in Afghanistan. “Nowzad helped me destress, he was a great comfort after I’d come in from a tough patrol, so I know how important these animals can be.”
Although Pen and his partner Hannah live in Devon, with another Afghan stray called Tali, they have set up a sanctuary for strays in Kabul, where 18 staff, including three women Afghan vets, care for dogs, cats, horses, donkeys and other animals.
“Once I’d set up the charity everything snowballed so quickly,” said Pen. “Once those bonds between people and animals have been established they are very hard to break.
“We’ve helped soldiers from all over the world, including Canada and America, where we also have a base now. “It’s only right to give those animals a better life with people who will give them good homes, plenty of attention and return the loyalty.
“With the incredible support from the public we have established an animal welfare centre in Kabul with trained vets. “We are educating people about how to care for animals and we trying to reduce the very high number of stray dogs with neutering. “It is a slow business but we are having great successes. Hannah is very involved in the education programmes and we go out regularly.”
“We are getting quite well known, so the strays come from all over the place. We are also getting horses and donkeys. It is great to be able to help the animals and help the community. We are delighted that three Afghan women have joined our veterinary team.”
“One of the great rewards of our work is reuniting animals with soldiers when they are back home. It’s fantastic to see happy, healthy animals in their new homes with people who will love and care for them.”
Getting the award last year was a real confidence booster, which also recognised the hard work put in by his team in Afghanistan.
Pen said: “I would encourage people in military family to suggest some candidates to give others the chance of the same privilege.”
Pets at Home marketing chief Gavin Hawthorn said: “We are delighted to support the Soldiering On Animal Partner Award. Pen and his charity, Nowzad are a fantastic example of the good that can be achieved as a result of the special bond between humans and animals within the Armed Forces Community.
“I am sure that there are many more examples that Sunday Express readers and Pets at Home customers can put forward for the Soldiering On Awards.”
Nominations close on September 30. There are eight other awards categories which can be found on the Soldiering on website, soldieringon.org/nominations.