‘I never expected such a big political scandal’

Posted 22nd February 2023

His fight for animal welfare everywhere has taken him far and wide, but when he’s ‘off duty’ Dominic Dyer calls the new city home. He spoke with Pulse about his work, and its associated challenges.

Everyone remembers the tense story of the former Royal Marine, Pen Farthing, battling to evacuate staff and animals from his Nowzad charity in Kabul during the fall of the Afghanistan capital to the Taliban in 2021. 

Dominic with Pen Farthing
Dominic with Pen Farthing at COP26 in Glasgow

Pen refused to abandon his staff and their families, or those animals being cared for at his facility, until they were granted permission to leave.

The whole gritty scandal that followed, including the war of words that rocked Whitehall, was detailed in the Channel 4 documentary, Animal Airlift: Escaping the Taliban.

While Pen was in Kabul, a key collaborator was galvanising national and international support from here in Milton Keynes.

Dominic Dyer wears many hats connected to animal welfare, and is currently British Wildlife Advocate & Policy Advisor with the Born Free Foundation. His twitter handle says he is a ‘wildlife protection and animal welfare campaigner’ which is a succinct explanation.

Dominic had met Pen at a fundraising event and the pair bonded over a shared passion for dogs.

“When Pen was having this crisis moment in Afghanistan, he contacted me and I said ‘If I can help…” I took two weeks off my job at Born Free and threw myself into trying to rescue his staff and families and all of the animals.

“At the time it seemed crazy and impossible, but we got such huge public support wherever I went across the country.

Dominic appearing on GMTV
Dominic appearing on GMTV discussing the unfolding Nowzad charity crisis

“We gave back to back interviews on Good Morning Britain and the BBC and we got half a million pounds given to us by an American billionaire to enable us…”

So there was enough cash to charter a plane, but then came a locking of horns with the British Government. It ended up being Farthing and Dyer v the Ministry of Defence.

“It all became a big scandal afterwards, but it’s about the 67 men, women and children and the 170 dogs and cats who got out of there. To me, that was an achievement which I am still extremely proud of, even though there was a huge amount of controversy,” Dominic says, resolutely.

Dominic with fellow campaigners
Dominic with fellow campaigners including Queen guitarist Brian May and the late MP David Amess

“It was an important thing to do and I just felt I had to do it,” he remembers, “I had an opportunity, I had the contacts and I threw the kitchen sink at it. Pen was doing what he was doing in Afghanistan and I was doing what I was doing here and the combination of both of us, our characters are somewhat different but we just came together at that moment in time and we created this big media storm… but not everyone likes that.

“My relationship with dogs suddenly became a big international story and then a big political scandal, all because I wanted to help people who were helping dogs.”

Print and television news featured the story frequently, and as the clock ticked down and evacuation looked less likely, more and more people became invested in the cause.

“I never slept for those two weeks, and Pen obviously didn’t, he was risking his life. It was an extremely stressful period of time, and it didn’t really end there. It suddenly became more than about dogs – it became about the future of a Prime Minister and about our democracy, but having worked in government, trust and integrity are really important to me.

“I never expected what we were doing that August was going to turn into such a big political scandal.”

Taking causes to the top in Downing Street
Taking causes to the top in Downing Street

The Kabul affair might have quietened now but, sadly, there is always another cause for Dominic to throw his weight behind.

How do you decide which causes to pick up with?

“I tend to choose a campaign that I think I can bring some weight to and some focus to, because I get asked to do loads, and I can’t possibly do them all, unfortunately.

“In the context of what I do with Born Free, there are a lot of policy issues and I dip into different areas where I bring my expertise to bear, and that continues to be Bovine TB in badgers, fox hunting and wildlife crime.”

Dominic also sits on the board of Wildlife and Countryside Link, a coalition for all of the big charities including the WWF, the RSPCA and the Wildlife Trusts.

He began working in Government when he was just 17 years old, and his time with the Ministry of Agriculture took him to the Whitehall boardrooms. What he learned there, gave him knowledge and ability that is now utilised in his work for animal welfare.

Public speaking is a passion, and a Cop 26 debate he organised saw Craig Bennett, Head of the Wildlife Trust, Chris Packham and Deborah Meaden on the stage.

“I am lucky that I can bring people like that, and organise events where we can have big discussions and debates like we did there about the global environmental crisis.

“There is a thread through my work, increasingly nowadays I look at where governments need to do things to stop exploiting animals, or where attitudes need to change to domestic or wild animals and I tend to try and follow that thread. It might be about dogs in Ukraine or Afghanistan, or it might be about the Faroe Islands and how they kill whales and dolphins, or it might be the ongoing debate about our farming systems, and bovine TB and badgers…”

Dominic, who has lived in MK for more than 20 years, says the issue between animal and human rights is becoming an increasing focus for his time.

“Quite a lot of my work is leading in the direction where it coincides more and more; the mental and physical wellbeing of having animals, but also the issue around trying to protect people’s rights and animal rights in countries like Afghanistan are interconnected, and I guess the older I get the more I like to be seen as an influencer; as someone that can make people sit up and think…”

And there is certainly plenty to think about.

“I say this a lot, but I was born on the 21st of July 1970, exactly a year since Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon. Then, there were 2.7 billon people on planet earth. There are now eight billion people on planet earth.”

If you let the enormity of that increase sink in, it’s obvious we need a change now.

“Britain is one of the most nature-degraded countries in the world, but the whole of the planet has struggled massively. My generation has done massive monumental damage to the planet and we need to engage with younger people to try and find some vision for nature to survive, that’s really important,” he thinks.

Sometimes the issues we face can seem too colossal to tackle, but it’s not about one person doing a lot, rather all of us doing something. We can all apply ourselves to helping reduce the exploitation of animals. Change can only come from us.

“Be more aware of what you eat, what you wear, where you go on holiday, who you interact with and the impact that has on animals and the natural world – and don’t be afraid to speak up if you get angry about something,” Dominic encourages.

“If you are seeing awful images of dogs in Turkey, share them, speak up, tell the tourism board that you won’t go there. Contact the Turkish Ambassador in London – send them an email.

“If you are not happy about the Faroe Islands killing whales and dolphins, contact the Faroese Ambassador in London, tell the Danish ambassador, tell pop stars not to go to festivals there and not make big films there, like James Bond!

“There are lots of things people can reflect on to try and change what happens in certain parts of the world.

“And those small things too, like trying to reduce how much meat or dairy you eat, or try more plant based foods. I think they are all worth doing.”

And change starts on your doorstep.

“Engage in your local community – there are so many green spaces to be protected and enjoyed here in Milton Keynes. There is a lot of building and development going on here, too. Wildlife is under huge pressure: badgers and bats and other animals. We need to live in harmony with nature.

“In many ways The Parks Trust have done a good job of allowing nature to flourish in Milton Keynes and we should value that and treasure it and tell other people about why it is so important.”

As the New Year came in, Dominic sent out a reassuring post to his ever increasing followers: “My New Year resolution is to keep shouting out for animals and the natural world and being a mighty pain in the a*se for animal abusers and exploiters,” he promised.

Join him and stand up for the voiceless.

> Dominic Dyer on Twitter: @domdyer70