Killing Animals, Saving Lives: Soldiers and Animals during Wartime

Crystal Davis


There is a street in the city of San Bernardino, CA. that is cascaded endlessly with trees

as far as the eye can see. The trees interlace as if holding hands. During the spring they blossom

and blow casually in the wind and during the fall they cast an array of colors against a blue

background. There is a house that is beyond these trees, behind bamboo fencing and a garden of

oriental poppies, purple geraniums, and Hosta flowers that look like dancing stars. This house is

wrapped strategically in emerald green paneling and has so much personality that a stranger

would love for a tour inside.

The owners are Alicia and Greg Tobin. They are the parents of three children, two girls

and a boy and also have opened their home to a number of animals. A medium sized body of

cream colored fur is sunbathing near a window on an early August morning. Bullet, is a German

Sheppard; he had previously been a military working dog and during his last tour he lost his left

hind leg to a bullet. His snout is cold and wet as he nuzzles his companion, Lucy, a tuxedo cat

with a scar that completely covers her right eye. Lucy was originally a stray cat left behind in Al

Basrah. Despite the fact that her eye was gouged out and she was left to die, the Tobin’s still

adopted her.

On lazy days they sit on the end of their owners’ bed, full of eagerness to please the

family that took them in. The German shepherd’s favorite past time is playing fetch in the

backyard and the tuxedo’s is shaking hands in exchange for a treat. The cat sleeps on average

for about eleven hours a day; she enjoys sunbathing and chasing birds.

What could happen to service animals who are adopted after they have worked through

their term? Abandoned military service animals who are adopted can return to normal life after a

short time of healing. Making for a transition to home life, the animals become more than pets,

they become great companions who have served for a cause.

Dogs are said to be a man’s best friend and more often than not, the same goes for cats.

Pet owners not only see them as animals, but they are seen as companions who deserve to be

cared for and cherished. But what happens to these glorious animals that find themselves in the

confines of human cruelty or war? What happens to the strays? The service animals? Or to their

owners when war comes between them?

Animals have become a huge part of people’s lives and many individuals have gone

through ups and downs to reach for the protection and preservation of these animals. On a clear

morning in early March of 2015, National Public Radio published an article about the release of

all elephants as part of any circus act. Fighting for the lives of beings that cannot speak in human

tongue takes a lot of time and effort.

However, not everyone feels this way. According to American film director Oliver Stone

and PETA, on average, there are over 10,000 animals that are killed each to the hands of military

training and even terrorist baiting. While many of these animals are in fact trained to help men in

the military, there have also been high concentrations of animals that are strays and ultimately

become casualties of war as a result.

According to the College Campaign Assistant of People for the Ethical Treatment of

Animals’ (PETA) Alanna Wagy, animal welfare is crucial.

“We believe that animals deserve consideration of what is in their own best interests.

The United States military forcing animals to risk their lives as bomb-sniffers for a war that is a

human endeavor is contrary to this consideration,” Wagy said.

Despite PETA being for the ethical treatment of animals, there are not-for-profit

organizations that don’t always care about the complete welfare of animals.

Erica Hughes is the executive director of the State Humane Society of California, during

a phone interview she explained the reality of HSUS and SPCA groups.

“All the local humane societies, SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)

and HSUSs (The Humane Society of the United States) are not connected—they are all separate

entities,” Hughes began.

“The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals) has a shelter

in New York. They are involved in lobbying but also provide grants to certain animal

associations who have to apply to be accepted,” she continued. “The HSUS is not a shelter, but

they work with farm animals and are [involved] in lobbying. [The HSUS] does not give hands on

animal care.”

While the HSUS of California does not have an opinion on how the ASPCA is involved

in lobbying, they do have a strong judgement on how they advertise and market themselves.

“The commercials, news and web letters lead to misconceptions that they are a part of the

main chapter of the SPCA and the HSUS. The ASPCA refuses to clear the air about the

misconception (the ASPCA not being a main chapter of the SPCA or HSUS),” Hughes finished.

It can be found that more than half the money that is donated to the ASPCA is actually

built into their marketing plan for new advertisement each year.

In recent years, not-for-profit organizations have begun to build up such a reputation for

the rescue of animals that they are usually the first that many people turn to. One of those

organizations is the European based Nowzad Dogs. Nowzad Dogs is a nonprofit organization

which aims to rescue stray and abandoned dogs from Afghanistan. Nowzad has been so

successful in its endeavor that it has become an official animal shelter in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, the organization can only rescue so many animals at a time due to the cost of

sending a rescue team, vaccinations, and airline travel costs.

Founder, Chairman of Nowzad Dogs, and 2014 CNN Hero, Pen Farthing explained

during a phone interview, how Nowzad Dogs was born. “It started out with the original dog,

Nowzad. He was in a dog fight and I couldn’t just leave him there to fight. It made me realize

with just a little bit of effort I could go and get them. Instead of sitting in a pub, I could be out

making a difference. It took a lot of people to get it off the ground but I would just be sitting with

a smile on my face afterwards (animal rescues).”

Farthing explained the dog fighting is an obvious sign of owners who are willfully

abusing their animals. However, illuminated some of the reasons, why he believes people in

Afghanistan abuse animals.

“Generally, Afghans don’t just got out and tour the dogs and cats because they want to,

its ignorance. I have seen people throwing rocks at dogs that have rabies, it is because they

afraid. They (also) don’t have vaccines to cure the dogs, and they won’t go out to and talk to

them for fun. With all the pack of strays, people either run the other way or walk away from

them,” Farthing said.

While there aren’t very many people who feel the same as Farthing, the understanding

that animals need to be loved as well is a growing concept.

“I don’t know if I made an impact on the world, but I did on a few people. A few

generations from now will want to help their local shelters. It will be a bug that will (spread) in

America or around the world. On the grand scale, it’s still working,” Farthing explained.

And while the bug may be a small one, it is definitely growing within a number of animal


National Security Affairs and Assistant Professor, Negeen Pegahi, Ph.D., of the U.S.

Naval War College of Newport, Rhode Island expressed her experience with Nowzad. During

Pegahi’s last tour in Afghanistan she and her husband had encountered a stray kitten which they

named Panzer.

“I first met Panzer when I saw a couple Army folks with whom I worked sitting in the

sun petting her one day.  She was so small, about four months old then, that I initially didn’t even

notice her and thought the two soldiers were just hanging out.  I joined in and played with her for

a while and then would see her every few days and do the same,” Pegahi said during an e-mail

interview. “I slowly figured out where her usual hang-out spots were on the camp (it wasn’t a

very big place, about half a mile long by half a mile wide) and would go try to find her on my

breaks.  She was often in the gutters — concrete channels that ran around the camp to carry rain,

snowmelt, etc. — and would pop out when she heard you calling.  She’s run over to you like a

dog; it was great.  Sometimes I wouldn’t see her for a few days and we heard she went over to

the German camp next to ours where they didn’t have all the rules against feeding, playing with,

etc. stray animals that we did.  We assume that’s where the name “Panzer” came from, one of the

Germans (it’s an old German tank).”

Pegahi’s tale with Panzer was far from over. After clearing with her officemates, she

began bringing the kitten into her office from time to time and would leave food out for Panzer

every day.

“It was hard to know, though, whether she was eating it or one of the other cats on the

camp.  We worried about her getting enough and about winter coming.  (We arrived at the

beginning of the summer, figure she was born in June or July, met her in the fall, and got her off

the camp and into Nowzad’s clinic in December, then to the US in early February.)  Seeing and

playing with her were often the highlights of my weeks.  All we did was work and the

environment was pretty depressing so she was a real ray of sunshine for us.  Lots of people on

the camp had really fallen in love with her and she had at least three names I heard — Panzer,

Cleo, and Miss Penny,” Pegahi said.

Pegahi and her company were stationed on a small, primarily U.S. camp on the northern

outskirts of the Afghan capital, Kabul.

“It was a collection of low, generally cream and/or brown buildings and almost all the

outdoor space was covered in small rocks and a lot of dust.  There was very little grass or other

greenery.  We had mountains running along one side of the camp and more in the distance, so the

views out were very nice but we felt (and we were) pretty cut off from the actual country and

people of Afghanistan.  I didn’t get to spend that much time with Panzer, usually just ten minutes

or so every two or three days when I was taking a break outside,” she described.

“We worked from 7:00 in the morning to anywhere from 11:00 at night to 2:00 in the

morning.  Playing with the animals was one of the only ways to have a break, though technically

we weren’t allowed to be doing that,” she said. “I brought Panzer into the office a few times and,

after working hard on convincing my husband for a week or so (since it was such a violation of

the rules), into our room overnight once.  I tried to give her a bath in the sink because she was

filthy but stopped before even getting her wet because she seemed pretty freaked out.  So we just

hung out on the bed and she slept most of the night with us before starting to cry early in the

morning.  We let her out before anyone woke up to hear her / figure out what we were doing.

She ran off into the snow and looked back at us once.”

Pegahi explained that with Panzer’s understanding of the world and constantly being

skittish to the world around her, she had trouble adjusting. Being that Panzer often had to fight

for her safety, it had become a habit that was built in to the animal’s consciousness.

“I think at that point — when she stayed in our room with us — if not before I was set on

figuring out how to get her back with us.  It was really sweet; she was initially very reluctant to

fully just relax and sleep.  She was fighting letting her head drop on the bed when she was laying

down but slowly, inch-by-inch, it did until she was just passed out.  We figured she always had

to be at least somewhat alert on the camp given all the natural predators (the tomcats, the

working dogs, the Afghan guards who didn’t like animals, etc.)  It was great to see her able to

completely let go and get some good rest.  She stuck up the whole room she smelled so bad but it

was great,” she finished.

When Pegahi had finished her tour she was devastated with having to leave Panzer

behind on her lonesome and so she found Nowzad. While she did not work closely with Farthing

she did in fact work alongside with a number of members.

“Nowzad was wonderful.  They really made it all happen; I literally couldn’t have gotten

her home without them.  They gave her all the shots and things she needed to be cleared for

international travel; they handled all the paperwork for that; they booked a company in Dubai

that would transfer her from the first flight (Kabul to Dubai) to the second (Dubai all the way to

DC); and organized how my mother would pick her up at the airport in DC,” she explained

Panzer’s voyage to her new home. “This didn’t come cheap — it all cost a little over $3,000, but

almost all of that went to the cost of the shots and the operation (they spayed her), the flights, the

company in Dubai, the carrier she travelled in, etc.”

According to Pegahi, “Nowzad typically has a $300 ‘convenience fee,’” for fully

vaccinating and spading the animal.

“They waived most of it in our case which was really kind and unexpected of them.  They

really are just interested in helping animals get healthy and get good homes.  I visited just twice,

the first time to drop her off for her shots and operation, after which she’d have to stay at least 30

days before flying out, then a second time shortly before she flew out so I could say goodbye,”

she said.

During Pegahi’s last few days of visiting Panzer before her vaccination and expedition on

reaching what would now be home, she got to meet the members who were as passionate about

saving animals as she was.

“There was a sweet old Afghan man who watched the gate and the grounds; a middle-

aged Afghan man named Dr. Hadi who was their head vet and who handled her operation; a

British woman (Louise) who handled the humans, the Afghan airlines, and the company in

Dubai; and an Afghan woman who was I think training to be a vet.  There are of course lots of

others involved but those were the people I met on my two short visits.  They had a bunch of

sweet dogs running around on the grounds, all of whom wanted you to play with them and were

adorable, and then an indoor two-room cat place where those who were healthy (had all their

shots, etc.) were waiting to go to their forever homes,” she said.

And Panzer’s trip began where it started, at home with Pegahi and her husband.

“Panzer flew to DC in early February and stayed with my mother, who was already

keeping my dog (an Alaskan malamute named Nikita).  My husband and I got back in late May

and then I got my house in Newport, RI in late July and Panzer and I moved up here.  While she

was in DC and Mike and I were still in Afghanistan, my mother would send a steady stream of

photos and stories and it sounded like Panzer did great adjusting to life as a pet in an American

house after growing up as a stray on Afghan streets.  When we settled into our new house, she

quickly found favorite spots — e.g., laying on the ottoman in the sun in front of the big picture

window in the living room — and just generally adapted very smoothly.  Mike and I always joke

about how much we have to learn from her.  She’s been through so much but is just the coolest

customer.  It’s a real inspiration,” she beamed.

Over 30 Marines and Navy corpsmen stepped foot onto a wickedly war-torn wasteland

outside of Ramadi, Iraq. Dry heat burrowed its way through their uniforms, groping at their

tightening vocal cords as they surveyed their surroundings: speechless. Partially demolished

buildings that had been shot at or bombed cascaded the landscape.

The troupe was stationed in an abandoned warehouse near a creek that reeked of human

feces and rotting meat. The team had been notified that the creek was a not only a dumping site

for the civilians of the neighboring city, but a contaminated drinking source. Stray animals would

often frequent the bog and posed a threat to the newly stationed soldiers.

In the desert heat of Ramadi, Corporal Zeus (his name has been changed to protect his

privacy) sat staring out the window of the warehouse that he was stationed at. Vultures croak in

the distance as they flew in circles overhead of a cat’s carcass that he had just recently shot.

“I found a kitten; someone in my unit had glued its eyes shut, poured hand sanitizer on it

and set it on fire. Whoever had done it had left it out to die. It was extremely hot outside and the

flies had already begun to gather. I felt bad and thought to myself—‘let me put it out of its

misery,’ and I shot it. That shit completely fucked me up,” said Zeus.

Trekking through war-ravaged lands that left behind the cadavers of hundreds of animals

poised itself as a quandary to Zeus. He recycled through the thoughts in his head, almost

regretting them as he explained his story without a filter. Change had come when he returned to

America and became an animal activist and rescuer.

Zeus has spent much of his downtime fostering animals across the east coast. His last

foster and rescue experience proved to be truly beneficial for his health.

“It was real good. Suffering with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and not being in

the military anymore, I felt useless. So being able to help animals and save them, I felt worth

something again,” Zeus confessed. “Especially to know they will be okay.”

The animal that Zeus met for his very last rescue proved to be more than worth his time

and patience.

“Max, he was a great dog, but he wasn’t supposed to be around other animals,” Zeus said.

Max was known to get scared very easily and his body language would set off other


“He was kept in his whole life. A rescue (group) took him in, paid for boarding and

training, I helped with the payments. And no one would foster [him] since he wasn’t good with

animals. Eventually the rescue found a foster in Georgia and he is there now [and] happy,” he


While Zeus rescues animals on more of a personal level there are those who rescue

animals on more of a national level. Animals are true companions and they deserve every bit of

compassion that they can be given. There are many people who do not initially aim on abusing

animals but end up doing it any way.

“Learning more and more how to do it (rescue animals) only when I can. It’s not easy

because you can’t trust anyone. You really have to use a microscope on people to make sure

they’re a good fit for an animal,” Zeus added. “And you can’t save all of them, which hurts the


Farthing shares the same views as Zeus in terms of attempting to rescue the animals of

the world, but agrees that all rescues are not possible.

“If you don’t do something how do you know it wouldn’t work? People who don’t know

about those who live in Afghanistan [assume] all Afghans are Muslim or [they] hate dogs,”

Farthing explained. “At our animal clinic there are four afghan vets, we see Afghans on a daily

basis with sick pets. We get to see different people and cultures who all have a common

goal—animal welfare.”

With people and veterans alike, animal welfare is as important as human welfare. Despite

the difficulties that animal activists and nonprofit organizations may face, they work towards

making sure that all animals are protected and treated fairly.

The welfare of all living creatures is a delicately interwoven affair, one that everyone can

be a part of. While it does take time and dedication, the betterment of this world is simply one

step away from the last.


Professor Broderick