My dog can detect bombs and save lives


07 September 2014

"But none of the other lads in Northern Ireland - Treo's first posting - shared my enthusiasm. He'd got himself a bit of a reputation as a grumbly dog and no one wanted him. However, I saw this as a challenge and we formed an instant bond. We wanted the same things in life - I can be a bit grumbly at times as well - and this dog's drive and determination impressed me. Between 2005 and 2007, we worked with the counter terrorist unit in Northern Ireland and formed a strong partnership.

Forever indebted

"In March 2008, after intensive training at our North Luffenham base, we were posted to Afghanistan.

"Despite meticulous preparation and my experience working as a protection dog handler in Iraq in 2003, nothing could quite prepare us for the country's intense 50 degree heat, being on patrol for days on end, and the fear that every day could be our last. In our seven months there, I dropped from 15½st to 12st, and we lost a handler and dog in an explosion. It was our toughest posting yet.

"But even during the darkest times, Treo was there for me. We were inseparable and at night he would lick the side of my face to let me know he was close by. Non-doggy people don't understand - Treo's not just a dog to me, he's my best friend. I asked so much of his paws in Afghanistan and he never once failed me.

"And it was a big ask - despite working for hours on end in the blistering heat when he's a black dog, Treo never once tired and I was amazed by how quickly he adapted to the arduous conditions. He just went on and on.

"Although he sniffed out lots of devices that saved countless lives, one particular find meant that a whole platoon will forever be in his debt.

"This brave little dog uncovered a collapsing circuit, which the Taliban set up to catch out the bomb disposal experts. Because Treo found the main charge, the experts knew that there were five other devices linked to it that would have exploded in a chain reaction and killed the whole platoon. That day, I estimated Treo saved 35 lives, and to say he was treated like a hero is an understatement. Everyone wanted to pat him and thank him and I was so proud of what he'd done.

"But this was nothing compared to the reaction we got from the media and general public on our return to the UK.

"In December 2008, Treo won the award for the Best Armed Forces Animal at The Sun Military Awards at Hampton Court Palace, Surrey. He'd received 90-odd nominations and the award was presented by BBC's ‘Strictly Come Dancing' host, Tess Daly.

Content continues after advertisements

"Unfortunately, Treo couldn't be with me because he was still in quarantine - or so I thought. In a real ‘This is Your Life' moment, Treo was brought on stage and we were reunited in front of millions of TV viewers. He had been given special dispensation to attend the awards and his appearance had been a closely guarded secret to surprise me. We were so pleased to see each other - his stubby tail couldn't stop wagging - and I just scooped him up in my arms. It was important that he could accept the award on behalf of all the search teams who have worked in Afghanistan and for those who are still out there.

"A couple of things struck me about this amazing experience. Firstly, it warmed my heart how many people support the armed forces and voted for Treo. Secondly, I looked around at all the celebrities, TV presenters such as Jeremy Clarkson, footballers such as John Terry, and members of royalty such as Prince Charles, and I thought: ‘At this moment, my dog is more famous than any of you - he's saved lives.' It was quite a sobering thought.

Doggy celeb

"Yet little did I know that there was more media interest and public recognition to come. In February 2010, it was an absolute pleasure to receive the prestigious PDSA Dickin Medal on behalf of Treo at the Imperial War Museum.

The award was presented by Princess Alexandra, and Treo is only the 63rd animal ever to be bestowed with this honour. The medal isn't given out willy-nilly and I was overwhelmed with pride. Treo loved the occasion but I was worn out from doing all the talking! This was then topped off by us appearing on TV's ‘The One Show'.

"The following month, we were also nominated for the Friends For Life award at Crufts and although we didn't win, Treo received a standing ovation, which brought a tear to my eye.

"Now was the time to finally retire my boy, aged 10. He's now a family pet and we're both settling into civilian life - him enjoying lots of countryside walks, and me, after 24 years in the army, involved in search work at the Olympic village in London.

"At first, I felt under pressure to live up to our reputation, but I was amazed to find out how much respect Treo's award had gained from my colleagues.

"I've bought an ex-police van with six kennels so Treo can come to work with me every day and sleep with me at night. He still wants to search and hasn't forgotten any of what he's learned, but I've promised him a relaxing retirement - perhaps with the odd spot of gundog training to keep his eye in.

"If someone were to offer me a million pounds for Treo I would turn it down without hesitation - he always has been and always will be my best friend at the end of a lead."