Stray cats and dogs were killed and injured when a truck bomb ripped through a fortified compound in Afghanistan's capital in early September. Now Samaritans are trying to find a new home for the surviving animals.
It’s a particularly dark evening, with leaden skies made even darker by the 15-hour blackout that has engulfed the entire of Kabul after the Taliban destroyed several pylons in the country’s northern provinces, cutting electricity to the Afghan capital. But at a small makeshift shelter in the heart of the city, a group of dedicated activists continue their work undeterred by the darkness; bathing the newly arrived heavily pregnant dogs using just the lights of their mobile phones. Many of their furry guests — about 15 cats and a few dogs — are survivors of the most recent Taliban attack in Kabul.
On September 3, a massive truck bomb targeted the Green Village, a heavily fortified compound occupied mostly by foreign nationals working in Afghanistan, killing 16 people, including eight foreigners, and leaving 120 others injured, most of them Afghans who often get caught in the crossfire of this war. But amidst all the violence and chaos in a steadily worsening situation in Afghanistan, which has caused increasing loss of civilian lives, the animal casualties often get ignored. Less than a handful of organisations that work in the country focus on animal rescue, protection and care.
“You don't hear about it much. For obvious reasons, animals are not the focus of news about insurgent activity and the all too regular violence here in Kabul,” Charlotte Maxwell-Jones, a 37-year-old archeologist- turned-animal-activist told TRT World. It was this scarcity of animal care that motivated Maxwell-Jones to start Kabul Small Animal Rescue, an NGO working on animal protection in Afghanistan.
“I think Nowzad [a Kabul-based British charity that also works on animal care] has cared for some dogs that have had shrapnel injuries after bombings. Donkeys and herd animals have been used by Armed Opposition Groups to carry bombs, but I haven't heard of that happening in a while,” she added.
While not frequently reported, small animals often get injured and killed in attacks. Even the Kabul Zoo, located in the western part of the city, has reported injuries to its wildlife residents during two incidences of suicide bombings that occurred close by.
Maxwell-Jones and her team of 10 employees, including a veterinarian doctor and a nurse, are devoted to rescuing animals affected by the war. “I’ve frequently visited friends in Green Village and I’m familiar with their cats and some of the people who take care of them," Maxwell-Jones said. "I started trying to get in touch with people about the animals the day after the attack, because I knew from messaging friends throughout that night that it was pretty serious and that the damage was extensive.”
Indeed, there wasn’t much left to see in the area surrounding the epicentre of the massive explosion, with buildings and the homes of locals who lived close by destroyed by the impact. Eventually, Julia Broska, a development worker who lived in Green Village, reached out to Maxwell-Jones with similar concerns over small animals that may have been injured or abandoned during the attack as residents fled for their lives.
“A few days later, the management gave me permission to come in. Initially I just went in to put food and water stations throughout the compound and to assess how many cats were there. But I ended up catching two on the first day, and have pretty consistently brought in two every day since,” Maxwell-Jones said.
With the help of a couple of security contractors from Green Village, Maxwell-Jones laid out traps to catch the other animals that may be in need of attention and care. Every day, she travels to the compound, which lies on the outskirts of Kabul, to bring back new rescues, a slow and tedious process. “Cats tend to hide when injured, so I’m not surprised that I haven’t seen any with actual injuries from the blast. Surely some did die in the initial explosion, but we'll never know how many,” she said.
Maxwell-Jones brings those she can find, at least two everyday, to the shelter where they are cleaned, fed and examined by the vet and given necessary medications and shots. “After this, our staff starts spending time with them--about half of the staff have job descriptions consisting almost entirely of ‘pet and play with the animals’,” she explained.
Many of the cats rescued from Green Village have needed constant attention to calm and acclimatise them to their new environments. “Our model is to treat them like it's a home, so we don't kennel them. We isolate them at first to do vetting and vaccinations, then integrate them in groups, so for much of the day we've got people playing fetch with groups of puppies and napping in the rooms with kittens,” she explained.
In a country with overwhelming human tragedies, it is understandably hard for stray animals to find as much sympathy. However, Maxwell-Jones’ Afghan employees share her passion and compassion for animal rescue.
“Allah makes the animals and the humans. When you feed and pet them, they play with you. They are kind,” said Akram Jalili, an Afghan animal activist who works as the shelter manager at Maxwell-Jones’ Kabul Small Animal Rescue. “Some people in Afghanistan don’t like the stray animals. And at first, I didn’t like them either but slowly, day after day, they grew on me. Now this is what I teach my son— when you see the dogs, give them food, don't hit them,” he said.
Jalili has worked closely with Maxwell-Jones in rescuing and caring for the cats and dogs arriving from Green Village. “We can’t leave them there. It’s not good for them there.”
The second phase of their work with these animals is to find them new homes, or reunite them with their owners from Green Village. “There are probably around 20-30 cats that need rehoming, but that might be a low estimate. All of them had worms and/or giardia and most are undernourished. After vetting and vaccinations, they are all up for adoption. We are fundraising for the costs of rehoming as well,” Maxwell-Jones said.
Some of the kittens have already found homes and are getting ready to jet around the world. “Agatha is the first kitten to go. I brought her home the first day of feeding and trapping. Some of the Nepalese guards were playing with her, and she was obviously tame and good natured, but also very thin and covered in her own diarrhoea. Our vet started her on a course of antibiotics and deworming medication. A few baths and a lot of fun cat-pilling sessions later, she is recovering beautifully and will fly to the states with me where an American friend with a DC-based rescue will take her,” Maxwell-Jones said, adding that other cats are lined up to go to Germany and the United States in the coming months. “But we are eagerly looking for more adopters for the other Green Village cats as well as two nursing mother dogs and their litters,” she added.
On September 24, Maxwell-Jones informed the reporter that the first kitten survivor Agatha has made it to the US.