'Battle Dogs' Star Pen Farthing Talks Rescuing Animals in War-Torn Afghanistan

John Griffiths
Preview Discovery Channel

Shock and awww, anyone? Emotions run the gamut in Battle Dogs, Discovery's reality show about Nowzad, an animal rescue clinic in war-torn Kabul, Afghanistan, where the Taliban once forbade residents from owning pets during their rule from 1996 to 2001.

Pen Farthing — a dashing former Royal Marine and past CNN Hero of the Year — each week saves pooches (and sometimes cats and donkeys) found roaming the city and gets them homes. What with the threat of suicide bombers and the Afghans' fear of rabies, Farthing, his girlfriend Hannah Surowinski and some local veterinarians have a tough mission.

"The results are worth it," says Farthing, who founded Nowzad in 2009 (it's named for an Afghan village and the dog he befriended there while on deployment the year prior). When the team recently introduced some local schoolkids to an adorable canine named Christopher, he says, "The children were petrified. They'd never seen a dog in such close proximity." Soon, though, "They were kissing Christopher on his head," he adds.

Other moments devastate. A German shepherd was treated for a gunshot wound in one episode. And in the March 2 episode, Farthing honors his late friend Rawail Singh, an artist and activist killed in an ISIS attack last year. Despite the tragedies, "Afghanistan is a country rich in culture, beauty and kindness," says Farthing.

He's obviously sold Surowinski on the place. After the two met in Morocco in 2011, he suggested a "holiday" in Kabul. "Hannah fell in love with the country just as I had," says Farthing. They're the perfect match…except when it comes to the kind of pooch they each prefer. "Pen wants a 'handbag dog,' and I like a big dopey dog that makes me feel protected," says Surowinski. "Maybe that's why I like Pen!"

Battle Dogs, Saturdays, 8:30am/7:30c, Discovery