This assembly tells the story of a bomb-sniffing dog called Treo, an Army dog who did work in Afghanistan, became the 63rd animal to be awarded the ’Animals’ VC‘ – the Dickin Medal.

This assembly tells the story of Treo, and the history of the medal, recalling some earlier recipients. It mentions other working dogs, and the case of the eager-to-please dog that gave away his master’s hiding place to the police a week or so ago. The question of whether an animal is capable of ‘bravery’ is briefly touched upon, but not explored in great philosophical detail.

Resources
Picture of Sergeant Heyhoe and Treo

Introduction

On 24th of February a brave dog was given a medal. That seems fair enough doesn’t it? Brave men and women get medals, so why shouldn’t brave dogs? This particular medal-winner was an army dog, serving with the forces in Afghanistan. His job was to find hidden explosives. Dogs, as you know, are pretty good at sniffing things out. They spend most of their time when they’re out and about doing just that, don’t they? Do any of you have a dog at home that’s good at sniffing out things that they like – treats, or things he or she shouldn’t have? Anybody want to tell us about that?

[Pause to take one or two stories]

That’s right. And you know that because a dog is good at sniffing things out, and lives in a world of smells, it can be carefully trained to sniff out particular things – drugs, perhaps, or explosives. And that makes them very useful to the police and the armed forces.

Today we’re going to hear about Treo, a black labrador who’s brilliant at sniffing out explosives. His job was to find what the army call IEDs − which are Improvised Explosive Devices, or home made bombs − used a great deal by the Taliban in Afghanistan. By finding them before they go off, he has saved soldiers’ lives, and it is for that he’s been given a medal. We’ll hear about the medal in a moment, but first let’s find out about Treo.

Treo is nine years old. He started his army career when he was a year old. He was recruited by the Defence Animal Centre in Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, where he did twelve weeks of training. After training he was posted to Northern Ireland, where for three years he worked with an Army dog handler searching hedgerows and suspicious packages for explosives.

Later he went to Afghanistan, where he worked with a new handler, Sergeant Dave Heyhoe. Treo and Dave would be at the front of the platoon of soldiers on patrol, with Dave encouraging Treo to search the edges of the road and other places where there might be a bomb. Twice he saved soldiers’ lives by finding bombs that would have otherwise gone off and killed them as they went past.

Of course, Treo could easily have been killed himself by any of these devices. But he’s safe now, retired and living at the Military Dogs Working Unit in Rutland.

On 24th February Treo’s wonderful record of service was honored by the award of the Dickin Medal, which is a special medal for animals that serve in battle. The ceremony was held at the Imperial War Museum in London. Sergeant Heyhoe was there in his best uniform of course.

The Dickin medal has now been awarded to 63 animals. It was created in 1943 at the height of World War Two by Mary Dickin, who started the PDSA (Peoples’ Dispensary for Sick Animals). It’s been awarded to 27 dogs, 32 pigeons, 3 horses and a cat.

Pigeons? Why would so many pigeons get medals? Because in wartime, before modern communications like mobile telephones, carrier pigeons were used often to carry life and death messages. The first ever Dickin Medal was awarded to a pigeon called Winkie. In 1943, Winkie flew 120 miles home to the aerodrome from a bomber that had crashed in the sea. The crew were carrying her for just that purpose. Her feathers had fuel oil and seawater on them, but she made it home − and people then knew that the bomber was in the sea, and the airmen were rescued.

There are many stories of Dickin medal winners. Treo’s story is one to add to them, another very worthy winner.

Conclusion

Dogs are good at finding things. A week or so ago in Germany a very friendly dog went and sniffed at a cupboard under the stairs where his master was sitting. The trouble is that the police were in the house looking for the man, and this mean they were able to capture him!

All dogs like to find things. But to find particular things they need to be very carefully trained. Then they can go to work – and dogs really do like to work. For thousands of years dogs have been friends with human beings, and the great thing is they can be pets and also workmates. Sergeant Heyhoe says;

’Everyone will say that he is just a military working dog – yes, he is, but he is also a very good friend of mine. We look after each other.’

Dogs can be guide dogs, or hearing dogs, or dogs to help people with disabilities. Or they can be hunting dogs, or sniffer dogs, or sheepdogs. And they really enjoy working. It keeps them fit and alert and makes them into good pets, because they can settle down after a day’s work and be a friend to the family. Sergeant Heyhoe says the team of soldiers he works with really enjoy having Treo with them. He says;

’Most of the troops have pets at home so Treo being there is an added bonus to them. They know while he’s in harness he’s a working dog, but when we get back he’s part of the team.’

A prayer

Lord, we thank you for the animals that depend on us to care for them. Give us the patience to look after them properly, keeping them healthy and alert. We thank you for their service, doing jobs, and also providing our food. May we respect their needs and return their service with kindness and care.

A thought

A dog is always pleased to see you. Maybe that’s a good lesson for how you should be with your loved ones at home.

Things to think about

Do you think a dog really can be ‘brave’? Some of the people who commented on Treo’s story on the internet were doubtful that a dog really could be brave, or whether Treo was just doing what he was trained to do. You could discuss that. Or perhaps you might just want to accept that, yes: he’s a good dog, doing a good job that saves peoples’ lives, and he deserves recognition for that. And we humans get a lot of satisfaction from giving rewards to our animals, so that’s good enough I guess.

Links

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2010

About the author: Gerald Haigh

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