What is it about soldiers and dogs? On every operational tour of duty that I went on, from the Balkans to Afghanistan, pretty much every unit adopted (or was adopted by) a dog. Official policy direction about such matters was always clear – as vectors for disease, animals should not be adopted as mascots; a policy to which a blind eye was often turned. The enduring relationship between man and his best friend perhaps explains the reason why. It is thought that dogs were first domesticated in central Asia at least 15 000 years ago. It is no surprise then, that when far from hearth and home and separated from loved ones, soldiers will find comfort in the shape of a four-legged friend.
Of the dogs of war that I met over the years, few stand out in my memory quite so much as Tangye. Tangye was an adorable little black Labrador that had made himself at home among the soldiers based at Kajaki. By the time I deployed to Afghanistan in the Spring of 2007, Tangye had already consolidated his position of ‘top dog’ at our base. Our doggy had achieved such status that here was no way that I could have written On Afghanistan’s Plains without giving him a mention:
‘As I make my way along the track, I am almost bowled off my feet by a small, lolloping black shadow which hurtles and weaves between the wraith-like forms of the patrolling soldiers. Tangye, a beautiful, stocky black labrador has joined us for the patrol. Tangye was found abandoned by our Royal Marines predecessors in the village whose name he bears. Loved by the soldiers, the dog serves as a talisman on our patrols. We know from the ICOM chatter that the Taliban do not like him, thinking him to be a mine-detecting dog. Whenever Tangye joins us on a patrol, the Taliban do their damnedest to kill him, but he has more lives than a cat and always comes through unscathed.’
I also had Tangye as a patient. A fellow officer brought him to me for a tick-removal session. I will never forget how well behaved Tangye was while I spent a good half hour removing the unwanted critters from his coat; it was as if he knew I was helping him.
You may not have heard of Tangye before, but if you saw the first season of the Ross Kemp documentary series Ross Kemp in Afghanistan, there is an episode in which B Company, 1 Royal Anglian mounts a patrol into the village of Mazdurak. If you watch carefully, you will see that the patrol is accompanied by a little black dog; that is Tangye.
For years after leaving Afghanistan, I would often wonder what happened to our adorable pooch. I just assumed that he was still somewhere around Kajaki. Last week, when I read that it was National Dog Day, I found myself thinking of Tangye, so I googled him! After all, hundreds of British soldiers had served in Kajaki, followed by the US Marine Corps, maybe others had written about him. The google search was fruitful. It did not take long to discover that Tangye is no longer in Afghanistan. He was rescued by Now Zad, a charity specialising in the rescue and rehoming of dogs from conflict zones as well as working to contain animal borne diseases such as rabies through the humane management of stray animal populations. Run by Pen Farthing, a former Royal Marine, the Now Zad charity has rescued more than 800 dogs from Afghanistan, often reuniting them with the soldiers that first rescued them.
A quick email to Pen has confirmed that Tangye was rescued and rehomed around 2010. It is now nine years ago that I was in Afghanistan; so no matter how young Tangye was then, he will be an old dog now. I also discovered that Tangye was featured in Beyond the Call of Duty, a book by Isabel George, in which he gets his own chapter.
Sadly, Pen could not give me any further details at to Tangye’s current whereabouts; wherever he is, I hope this faithful dog soldier is living the high life – he deserves it.
Find out more about the work of the Now Zad charity at http://www.nowzad.com
Beyond the Call of Duty by Isobel George is published by HarperCollins and is available on amazon
Barry Alexander is the author of On Afghanistan’s Plains, a true story of courage and compassion under fire.
© Barry Alexander, 2016