Poppies in a field with a sunset

What it takes to be man’s best friend

We have all heard the term man’s best friend but what does it really mean? Sometimes we treat this term to mean a furry friend who helps his master, but this idea goes so much further in the world we live in today. As we pause to remember those who have fallen this Remembrance Sunday, let’s spare a few thoughts for the outstanding and heroic work of some of our pets too.

Ever since World War One we have seen honours go to pigeons and recently, an African giant pouched rat named Magawa for his “life-saving” work in Cambodia where he detects landmines. Manawa has so far discovered 39 landmines and 28 items of unexploded ordnance in his seven-year career.

Returning to the UK, we meet Kuno who is a 4-year-old Belgian Shepherd enjoying his military retirement. But just a year ago he was a military dog, deployed with his handler on a dangerous mission to support specialist forces against Al Qaeda. Under attack and trapped by grenade and machine-gun fire, Kuno and the assault force couldn’t move without being hit but being pinned down this dog managed to go beyond the call of duty.

His injuries were so severe he needed several operations before he was stable enough to fly back to the UK. Sadly, part of one of Kuno’s rear paws had to be amputated to prevent life-threatening infection, but now he is thriving after becoming the first UK military working dog to be fitted with custom made prosthetic limbs. 

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:

“Without Kuno, the course of this operation could have been very different, and it’s clear he saved the lives of British personnel that day. This particular raid was one of the most significant achievements against Al Qaeda in several years.”

“Kuno’s story reminds us not only of the dedicated service of our soldiers and military dogs, but also the great care that the UK Armed Forces provide to the animals that serve alongside them.”

Now retired and rehomed, Kuno will receive the PDSA Dickin Medal, the highest animal honour in existence for military animal valour, which will be formally presented by PDSA, the UK’s leading veterinary charity who run the world’s most prestigious animal awards programme, in a virtual ceremony this November.

The world-renowned PDSA Dickin Medal was introduced by PDSA’s founder, Maria Dickin CBE, in 1943. It is the highest award any animal can achieve while serving in military conflict. Kuno will become the 72nd recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal; previous recipients include 34 dogs, 32 World War II messenger pigeons, four horses and one cat.

Another highly decorated animal award goes to Commando who was a pigeon used in service with the British armed forces during the Second World War  to carry crucial intelligence. The pigeon carried out more than 90 missions during the war, and also received the Dickin Medal. Commando, a red chequer bird, was bred in  Haywards Heath,  Sussex  by Sid Moon. 

Serving with the National Pigeon Service (NPS), Commando was given the identification code N.U.R.P.38.EGU.242. During his illustrious career, Commando made more than ninety trips into and out of  France carrying confidential messages. 

He served for three particular missions carried out in 1942 — one in June, another in August, and the third in September in which he carried crucial intelligence to Britain from agents in France. This vital information included the location of German troops, industrial sites and injured British soldiers which indeed proved invaluable to the military and that is why Commando is still recognised today for his valour.

The three accounts above are only a few testimonies of hundreds available to find.  As we remember those who have fallen, we must remember all our animal friends also who put themselves in harm’s way. Thank you to all the animals who have served, and continue to serve our country.