HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Tails were wagging as loved ones were once again reunited.
Nowzad is a charity set up to relieve the suffering of stray and abandoned dogs, cats and other animals in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Most people don't realize the connection that Soldiers and animals make while in a combat zone," said Lt. Col. Joseph Crocitto, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command Strategy and Policy Branch chief, G-3. "It is a bond that is not easily broken and to be able to have those animals come back to the states is a great thing for the Soldiers who befriended them."
Nowzad was named after the village in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan, Now Zad, which the British Royal Marines arrived at in 2006. It was organized after Royal Marine Sgt. Pen Farthing and others became attached to some of the local dogs and cats and wanted to be able to bring them home once their tours were completed.
Through Nowzad's work, neglected and undernourished dogs are relocated to western countries where they can find the love, care and attention they deserve. For many of the stray animals in the Middle East, they now have a guardian for the first time in their lives. Further, the dogs also serve returning troops as emotional support animals.
"Nowzad is a great organization," Crocitto said. "They do all they can to help reunite loved ones. The bond the Soldiers and the animals make is one that words really can't describe. I am proud to have been a part of it."
Crocitto talked his trip to greet two dogs and a cat his wife had chosen to save at JFK Airport in New York City on Nov. 16. He talked about the emotional reunion of Soldiers and the 14 dogs and one cat that became a part of their lives.
At the reunion were Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, and Arthur E. Benjamin, founder of American Dog Rescue who helped reunite veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq and the four-legged friends they bonded with while deployed.
"It was amazing to see how other people were involved and how much they cared about not only our Soldiers, but also the animals who finally made it to their new homes," Crocitto said. "It was truly a sight to see when everyone came together, never to be separated again."
Crocitto's wife, who was deployed to Afghanistan, talked about how she became involved with the program and how she came to have five animals join her family.
"I met Nakita and just fell head over heels for her. She was so beautiful, gentle and well mannered during my visit, like she was on display," said Crocitto's wife, retired Chief Warrant Officer 3 Julie Sorenson, a maintenance and logistics task order monitor working in Afghanistan as a contractor. "When I went into the house where I met Hesco, I scooped him up in my arms. He licked my face and then laid his head on my shoulder; I was sold by that time."
Sorenson told how Hesco was rescued and Nakita had been in the shelter since December 2010 and no one wanted her because of her size. She also described the cats that were rescued. Sameera, an orange tabby cat became a companion to Scooter, a white and grey cat, and Khawlah the cat was initially named Carl but was renamed Khawlah, which sounds like Karla, when they figured out she was a girl.
"I was overjoyed to have all five animals home for Thanksgiving," Sorenson said. "I am ever so grateful to the Nowzad shelter; Pen Farthing, Nowzad founder; Louise Hastie, from the Nowzad shelter in Kabul; Dean Thorburn, from the Dubai kennels and cattery; American Airlines for shipping Nakita, Hesco and Sameera; and to my husband who went to meet the animals in New York City.
"Nakita, Hesco and Sameera ended up being transported by Pen Farthing to our home in New Hope, Ala., via U-haul as Nakita was too large to fly from JFK to Huntsville," she added. "So the story ends as Joe and I have integrated all five animals with our existing five animals (three dogs and two cats) on our 38-acre property. The five rescues from Afghanistan are all enjoying their new life and environment."
Sorenson talked about how Nowzad makes it possible to reunite old friends who have shared a difficult time together and have bonded in ways few people will ever know.
"The Nowzad program is a lifesaver to the Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who rescue and befriend animals at the Forward Operating Bases and who cannot bear the thought of leaving them behind knowing there is no hope for them," Sorenson said. "These animals bring a part of home to the Soldiers while they are deployed and bonds between the Soldiers and animals are formed. The animals of Iraq and Afghanistan touch the lives of many contractors, civilians and personnel serving along with the Soldiers, so it's not just service members who feel a sense of obligation to give a home to an animal who has given them so much."
Sorenson talked about how those deployed overseas got to know and love the animals. She mentioned how these future "family members" bring a feeling of home in a foreign land.
"It sounds like a lot of effort but if one just knew how much these animals touch the lives of all personnel serving in these countries they would understand the reason people cannot just leave the animals behind," Sorenson said. "The Nowzad program also works with the local communities to promote the spaying, neutering, and vaccination of all animals to include a program designed to trap, spay and neuter and release the feral animals to prevent them from over-populating the country."
She also mentioned why she decided to send those animals back to the states to join her family in Alabama.
"People have asked 'why adopt or rescue from Afghanistan when there are so many animals in the U.S. that need to be adopted?'" Sorenson said. "I say, 'the animals in Iraq and Afghanistan have no hope and no one to give them what we in the United States take for granted and that is a chance to survive and love a family and to be loved.'
"I did not rescue and adopt and offer to provide a home for these animals thinking that a story would be published anywhere," she added. "I rescued and adopted because I could not leave them behind and have so much love for animals no matter where they are located."
For more information, go to the Nowzad Website at www.nowzad.com. They currently have approximately 100 dogs and approximately 10-15 cats at the shelter. Another website for helping save abandoned animals is www.americandogrescue.org.
They go through a large 20-pound bag of dog food a day to feed the dogs. Petco will ship dog and cat food for free if anyone would like to donate food. It can be shipped to the following address:
APO, AE 09356-9997