Heroes can come in all shapes and sizes, and can walk on two legs — or sometimes four.
Theo, a working dog for the British Army, was such a hero. The English Springer Spaniel and his human partner, 26-year-old Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, spent their days in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan, hunting for roadside bombs and other deadly weapons as a team in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps’s 104 Military Working Dog Squadron. Their hard work saved countless lives. In fact, together, the pair uncovered 14 bombs and weapons caches in only five months on the job — that’s more than any other detection team in the Afghanistan conflict.
Tragically, Lance Corporal Tasker was shot and killed by insurgents in March 2011 during a mission in the Nahr-e-Saraj district.
Loyal to the death, Theo followed his friend hours later, succumbing to a fatal seizure. Lance Corporal Tasker’s family believes that Theo, devastated over the loss of his best friend, died of a broken heart. Young Theo was only 22 months old.
The Dickin Medal is the highest honor an animal can receive for bravery displayed during times of war. The award is the animal equivalent of the prestigious Victoria Cross medal, which is given to select human British military heroes who demonstrate valor in the face of great peril, or the United States Congressional Medal of Honor.
“Liam loved his dog,” said Lance Corporal Liam Tasker’s mother Jane Duffy during Wednesday’s Wellington Barracks ceremony in central London, “and I believe that he would’ve been immensely proud to know that Theo’s life-saving loyalty and devotion to duty have been recognized.”
According to Duffy, before his death, her son had nominated Theo for the Dickin Medal and would have been ecstatic that his dog was being acknowledged for his skills and bravery in the field.
Duffy went on to describe Theo as her son’s “best mate,” saying that Tasker and Theo were inseparable.
“He said that Theo used to get excited when they got out the Vallon [a kind of bomb-detecting equipment] and switched it on because it meant he was going out,” Duffy explained.
Sergeant Matthew Jones, who served alongside Lance Corporal Tasker in Afghanistan, accepted Theo’s award alongside his own search dog, Grace. The Daily Mail reports that Tasker’s family will also receive a replica medal honoring Theo.
During the touching ceremony, Director of the Royal Army Veterinary Service, Colonel Neil Smith, praised Theo’s dedicated service and acknowledged the hard work done every day by other canine search dogs.
“This award recognizes not only a very special dog, but also the contribution that all our dog teams make in detecting improvised explosive devices and weapons caches,” Colonel Smith said.
Since the introduction of the PDSA Dickin Medal almost 70 years ago, 64 brave animals have received the award: 28 dogs (including Theo); a cat named Simon; horses Olga, Upstart, and Regal; and 32 World War II messenger pigeons.