Our trip to Whitlit
Yesterday we attended our first literary festival and what a treat it was. Whitlit took place in the charming seaside town of Whitstable on the Kent coast, a place that we have been promising to visit for such a long while it was too good an invitation to turn down. Aside from it being in a coastal setting famous for its seafood and oyster focussed foodie nature of the place, the other big attraction for me was that I would get to meet Pen Farthing, founder of the animal rescue charity Nowzad which works to improve the welfare of animals in Afghanistan. I’ve been following their work since I first came across it a few years ago and so I will admit to being a little giddy when I accepted the invitation.
I’d been invited to share with Pen, the “Animals in Memoir” event by Marnie Summerfield Smith Memoir Director of the Festival and what a lovely idea this was for an event. Originally I’d planned to make it a family day out with Michel taking care of Renae and Twinkle while Susie-Belle and I did the talking bit, but we had to make a quick change of plan as Michel couldn’t come so Susie-Belle and I went alone yesterday morning.
We arrived in good time and met up with our friend Zoe, with her ex-breeding dog Bella, who spent a little time with Susie-Belle at Janet’s during foster care. Zoe knows Whitstable well and is a frequent visitor and together we had time for a wander before Susie-Belle and I made our way to the Horsebridge Centre to meet Marnie and her delightful rescue dog, Tippi; she is yet another dog who has suffered at the hands of humans, being abandoned and found tied to a tree in a field.
So, on stage were three dogs who know from experience that humans are not universally good. Nowzad was a fighting dog in Afghanistan – his chopped off ears remain a visible reminder of that – till Pen saved him, which set a whole new ball rolling for Pen and many of the dogs in Afghanistan. His wonderful book, One Dog At A Time is well worth reading for the full, incredible story. When Nowzad walked into the Green Room, it was a joy for me to see him in the flesh, having read his story and followed his journey. He is an old boy these days, his back legs are not what they once were but Pen said that given a chance, the fighter he was made to be in his early years does still struggle to the surface. Once or twice, I caught a look out of the corner of his eye as he spied Susie-Belle that made me a teeny bit glad he was in the safe hands of an ex-marine. But just a teeny bit. I was however, glad that our bossy-boots Renae wasn’t there to see just how tough an ex-Afghan-dog-fighter can be; I like to think she knows her limitations when she decides the world needs to know she’s around and trying to impress, but I reckon even on his elderly legs, Nowzad might just show her that she really is a soft little miniature schnauzer brought up in safe suburbia, having never known a tough day in her life.
The event was a sell-out success which was wonderful for Marnie and everyone involved with WhitLit. It was great to have a keen and welcoming audience. Pen and I talked about our books, our dogs and what we wish to see happen in our respective areas of concern. It struck me as Pen spoke about the Afghan dogs and animal welfare that whilst life is hard there, the dedication of their Nowzad team is awe inspiring.
As he talked about the early life with Nowzad in the UK, how he knew nothing about living in a home, walking on grass, leads, beaches, normal life in fact for most pet dogs, it was striking how similar the issues are for dogs like Susie-Belle that survive the experience of life as a breeding dog at the roughest, cruellest end of puppy farming. Like Nowzad, Susie-Belle had to learn how to live in the home, walk on the lead, trust humans. Not only trust, but now, it’s clear that she loves her life with humans, as I certainly think Nowzad does.
After the talk and questions from the audience, there was the chance for us to sign our books and as always, Susie-Belle was a darling, sitting peacefully on my lap as she had done during the whole event. She is a real ambassador for the anti-puppy farming message as she personifies peace and forgiveness against a lifetime of abuse and trauma. I truly am lucky to have found in Susie-Belle a remarkable example of how dogs can suffer, but put it behind them so that they can make the most of what else life offers them. Being there yesterday with Susie-Belle, Nowzad, his canine sister Tally (also an Afghan street dog) and Tippi, was an honour for me, made all the better by the warmth and enthusiasm from everyone who wanted to hear their stories. I thank Marnie for the opportunity.