As a vet, I've often been struck by the strong bond between man and dog. It is heartening to see pet owners make sacrifices to ensure their beloved pet receives the medical care they need to live a happy, healthy life.
But it's also important to recognise the reverse - what animals do for us. PDSA seeks to commemorate this in many different ways, a prime example being the awarding of the PDSA Dickin Medal. Instituted by our founder Maria Dickin CBE, this is awarded to animals that display life-saving bravery or devotion to duty in a theatre of war. Awarded just 64 times since 1943, it is recognised as the animals' Victoria Cross and represents the highest honour an animal can receive.
The PDSA Dickin Medal contains the words 'We also serve' and these emotional words always remind me that these animals have performed supreme acts of gallantry to protect lives.
This latest recipient is Theo, a British Arms and Explosives Search Dog who died just hours after his handler was killed in Afghanistan in 2011.
Theo's story is particularly inspiring. He was serving with his handler, Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, part of Royal Army Veterinary Corps, working to detect hidden weapons and explosives. While in Afghanistan, Theo detected these life-threatening items a total of 14 times: the most any Arms and Explosives Search dog in Afghanistan has found to date.
In March 2011, Theo and Liam were on a mission in Helmand when they came under fire and, tragically, Liam was killed. Theo was immediately returned to base but sadly died from a seizure hours later.
Liam's colleagues recall his wonderful working relationship with Theo, describing them as 'inseparable'. According to the British Army, Theo's actions saved many other soldiers and innocent civilians from death and serious injury.
The relationship between Liam and Theo is an example of the never-to-be-underestimated importance of the human and animal bond. They worked together as a team - not as individuals - devoted to their work and to each other.
For me, theirs is a truly inspirational story. How much would I give to save other people's lives? How much do I recognise the sacrifice that people and animals make to ensure we have safer lives? It makes me realise that I shouldn't get concerned about minor inconveniences in my life, such as a client arriving a bit late for an appointment at our PetAid hospital, when others are making such huge sacrifices for our benefit.
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