Animals have aided man in battle and disaster ever since ancient times. Medals of Honor have been bestowed upon men and women for heroism and bravery for decades, but never to animals.
Only the United Kingdom has a medal strictly for animals that have served above and beyond in war and disaster. The Dickin Medal. A medal which is equivalent to the Victoria Cross, and the Congressional Medal of Honor here in the USA. It’s the only one of it’s kind.
The Dickin Medal was instituted in 1943 in the United Kingdom by Maria Dickin to honor the work of animals in war. Maria Dickin was the founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), a British charity that provides care for sick and injured animals of the poor. Maria established the award for any animal displaying bravery and devotion to duty whilst serving with the British armed forces or civil emergency services. The medal was awarded 54 times between 1943 and 1949 to 32 pigeons, 18 dogs, 3 horses and a cat for their heroism during World War II.
One recipient of the Dickin Medal was Rip, a dog made homeless after the Luftwaffe attack on East London in 1940. He attached himself to an Air Raid unit that had started to feed him scraps as they sifted through rubble looking for victims. Rip demonstrated a remarkable ability at digging out survivors – almost supernatural. He was never trained as a search and rescue dog. Rip just *dug into* work and found numerous survivors. He had the ability to withstand exploding bombs, air raid sirens, fire and smoke. This led authorities to later train dogs formally to trace casualties.
In July 1945, his uncommon valor earned him the Dickin Medal, two years after it was introduced by the PDSA. He wore it proudly on his collar until he died. Rip died in 1946 and became the first animal hero to be buried in the PDSA cemetery in Ilford, Essex. Rip’s medal went up for auction in April 2009 and sold for £24,250. The winning bidder at the auction in London remains anonymous.
The last animal to receive the Dickin Medal during war time was Tich, a mixed breed dog that served with the 1st Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps between 1941 and 1945.
No other animal received the award after 1949. The medal was reinstated in 2000 but awarded to a war dog serving Canada during WWII. A Newfoundland dog named Gander who saved Canadian infantrymen on at least three separate occasions during the Battle of Lye Mun in Hong Kong December 1941. Gander picked up a thrown Japanese hand grenade and rushed with it toward the enemy, dying in the ensuing explosion, but saving the lives of several wounded Canadian soldiers.
And that’s it – sort of. It wasn’t until 9-11 that the medal was deemed worthy of recipients. And that honor went to three American dogs that assisted at the World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks on the United States.
In 2002, the award went to Apollo, a search and rescue dog who served with the K-9 unit of the New York Police Department. Apollo and his handler were called in to assist with the rescue operations after the attacks. They arrived at the World Trade Center fifteen minutes after the attack, making Apollo the first search and rescue dog to arrive at the site after the collapse of the World Trade Center. At one point, Apollo was almost killed by flames and falling debris. However, he survived, having been drenched after falling into a pool of water just before this incident. Undaunted, Apollo shook off the debris and immediately started working.
His award was accompanied by these words:
Faithful to words of command and undaunted by the task, the dogs’ work and unstinting devotion to duty stand as a testament to those lost or injured.
Also receiving the Dickin Medal in 2002 were Salty and Roselle, two Labrador guide dogs that led their blind owners down more than 70 flights of crowded, smoke filled stairways to escape from the damaged World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Their award was accompanied by these words:
For remaining loyalty at the side of their blind owners, courageously leading them down more than 70 floors of the World Trade Center and to a place of safety following the terrorist attack on New York on 11 September 2001.
Make no mistake about it, a dog’s loyalty and sense of duty knows no boundaries. They face danger and death to stay near the ones they love. There is no greater force on earth than the loyalty of a dog.
To date, 63 medals have been awarded. I decided on writing about the Dickin Medal for coming this Sunday, it is the 10 year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. I’ll have more dog-related articles this week about the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die. ~G.K. Chesterton