Animal rescuer and former Royal Marine Pen Farthing has finally made his “Operation Ark” a reality. But now that the animals are safe, people are criticizing the rescue effort.
Farthing, the founder of animal rescue, Nowzad based in Kabul, Afghanistan, had been rushing to get his nearly 200 rescued dogs and cats to safety via a charter plane to the UK following the Taliban takeover of the country. Amid this, two blasts near the airport in Kabul killed 13 American servicemembers and countless other civilians.
The rescuer himself was nearly killed when his car was targeted by a gunman last week, but he escaped unharmed. His plane was given the green light to leave with the animals — but Farthing’s staff, however, was not. The Taliban officials at the airport reportedly told the staff that they did not have the correct paperwork to leave.
“Arrived [in] Heathrow with partial success of #OpArk,” Farthing tweeted Sunday afternoon. “Mixed emotions and true deep feeling of sadness for Afghan today.”
The animals arrived at the UK’s Heathrow Airport over the weekend and have entered into the legally required quarantine period at various animal sanctuaries. But now that the animals are safe, not everyone is happy about it.
Politicians and others across the UK have expressed that they don’t understand why the animals were prioritized amid the unrest in Afghanistan.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand why you didn’t prioritize your staff over animals,” one Twitter user Tweeted at Farthing. “I can’t help but wonder if you had sent your staff to the airport right at the beginning of the evacuation, things might be different. I realize it’s an unpopular opinion, but I just don’t get it.”
It’s not just UK residents online criticizing the rescue effort. According to The Guardian, British Defense Minister Ben Wallace told members of Parliament during a Wednesday conference call that Operation Ark had “diverted” the British military’s focus somewhat from saving human lives, adding that rescuing the animals was “not something I would be proud of.”
“What I was not prepared to do is prioritize pets over people,” he said. “I’m afraid you may dislike me for that but that’s my view. There are some very, very desperate people under threat.”
In an interview with LBC Radio on Saturday, Tom Tugendhat, chairman of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said he was displeased with the usage of troops to ensure the animals’ safety.
“The difficulty is getting people into and out of the airport, and we’ve just used a lot of troops to bring in 200 dogs, meanwhile my interpreter’s family are likely to be killed,” said Tugendhat, according to the BBC.
However, a worldwide community of supporters is elated that Farthing was able to return to the UK with his animals in tow.
“You’ve been so brave and determined to save your staff/families, we are all behind you,” one supporter tweeted. “Please give all Nowzad our love and thoughts, they are constantly in our minds. We hope and pray they’re brought to the UK as soon as possible.”
While Farthing is devastated that he couldn’t bring his staff, the fight is not over, he said on Twitter Tuesday.
“Yes, I managed to get the animals of Nowzad on a flight to safety,” Farthing said. “ I couldn’t take my staff as the Taliban put an AK47 in my face and told me they were staying. Not much I could do. BUT that does not mean we have given up. It was always and will BE ‘people and animals’ #OperationArk.”
Dr. Iain McGill, a vet working with Nowzad, said the animals are all doing well for the most part after their long trip. Once they are finished quarantining, they will be available for adoption throughout various shelters in the UK.
“The animals, considering what they’ve been through, are in very good shape on the whole,” McGill told the BBC.
One of the rescues that helped transport the animals from the airport is Lozzas Lurcher Rescue, based in Hertfordshire. In photos and text updates posted on the rescue’s Facebook page, the dogs were being cuddled, given treats, and cherished — after the long journey so many have advocated for.
“I know Nowzad [is] desperately trying to help the people left behind, but today is a celebration that lives have been saved that wouldn’t have been if it wasn’t for Pen’s sheer guts and determination,” the group said on Facebook. “[Every dog] needed to be fussed, fed treats and told how lucky and wonderful they were by me before being put into their kennel.”
Featured Image: Pen Farthing/ Twitter