The PDSA Dickin Medal was first instituted by PDSA in 1943. It is the highest award any animal can receive in recognition of conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving in military conflict. Theo’s is the first PDSA Dickin Medal to be presented since 2010.
Sadly, Theo died hours after his handler, Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, was killed by enemy fire in March 2011, and his award was made posthumously at London’s Wellington Barracks in the company of Lance Corporal Tasker’s family and colleagues. The award was accepted by Sgt Matthew Jones and search dog Grace.
Theo was deployed with Lance Corporal Tasker as part of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps’s 1st Military Working Dog Regiment during conflict in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. Their role was to provide search and clearance support, uncovering hidden weapons, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and bomb-making equipment. During his time in Afghanistan Theo made 14 confirmed operational finds, the most any search dog in Afghanistan has found to date.
Commenting on the award, PDSA Chairman, Michael Bolton, said: “We are proud to honour Theo with the PDSA Dickin Medal, the highest award any animal can receive for life-saving bravery in conflict. Without doubt, Theo’s actions in Afghanistan saved many human lives.”
Colonel Neil Smith QHVS, Director of the Army Veterinary and Remount Service, said: “The Royal Army Veterinary Corps is honoured that PDSA awarded its Dickin Medal to Theo. Sadly Theo died just a few hours after his handler. This impressive team undoubtedly prevented many soldiers and civilians being killed or injured.
“This award recognises not only a very special dog, but also the contribution that all our dog teams make in detecting improvised explosive devices and weapons caches.”
Jane Duffy, Liam’s mother, said: “Liam loved his dog and I believe that he would have been immensely proud to know that Theo’s life-saving loyalty and devotion to duty have been recognised by the awarding of the PDSA Dickin Medal.”
One such device was found by Theo while supporting 11 Platoon 1 Royal Irish Regiment. Theo was searching a crossroads in the Nad el Ali South district and detected an improvised explosive device which, if detonated, could have killed many soldiers and civilians.
Theo helped uncover not only many hidden explosive devices, but the materials that could be used to make them. On 6 December 2010, while supporting the Irish Guards and Danish troops forming part of the Coalition forces, Theo identified two bags of fertiliser and a large quantity of parts intended to make IEDs.
On another occasion, Theo found an underground tunnel leading to a room in which insurgents were suspected of making bombs and hiding from Coalition forces.
On 1 March 2011, Theo and Lance Corporal Tasker were on a mission in support of the Irish Guards in the Nahr-e Saraj district in Helmand, when a fire-fight broke out, killing Lance Corporal Tasker. Theo was being taken back to Bastion when he started having seizures. Despite immediate first aid and veterinary treatment he unfortunately died.
Since the introduction of the PDSA Dickin Medal by PDSA founder Maria Dickin CBE in 1943, it has been awarded 64 times: to 28 dogs (including Theo), 32 World War II messenger pigeons, three horses and one cat.