7 hero stories of service dogs and animals

Acts of bravery are not the preserve of humans alone. Many animals that have served in military conflict have shown outstanding devotion to duty.

Some animals risk their lives to help their human companions. Over the years, their brave deeds have been recognised by the PDSA Dickin Medal. Bestowed by veterinary charity the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), the award is the highest honour awarded to serving animals globally.

Here are seven stories of service dogs and other animals that have received the award since it was created in 1943:

1. Irma: The heroic service dog for the Civil Defences of London during World War II

Awarded the Dickin Medal on 12 January 1945, Irma (formerly known as Crumstone Irma) earned the award by assisting in the rescue of 191 people trapped in destroyed buildings during and after the Blitz.

The noble Alsatian had the ability to determine whether a victim was dead or alive, saving both time and lives throughout the salvation mission.

Irma’s owner, Margaret Griffin, was also awarded for her impeccable training and courageous accompaniment of her dogs during rescue missions, receiving a British Empire Medal for her own contributions.

2. Salty and Roselle: The loyal guide dogs who saved lives in the 9/11 World Trade Center attack

These two valiant Labrador guide dogs remained by the side of their blind owners, guiding them to safety down more than 70 floors during the terrorist attack in New York in September 2001. The canine heroes directed their trusting owners through debris until they were away from harm. They were presented with the Dickin Medal on 5 March 2002.

This was just the second time a joint Dickin Medal had been awarded. The remarkable pair received several additional honours, including ‘Partners in Courage’ and ‘Hero Dog of the Year’ titles.

3. Diesel: The gallant police dog that protected lives and sacrificed his own following the 2015 Paris terror attacks

PDSA honoured Diesel with the Dickin Medal on 28 December 2015. He was posthumously recognised for his honourable efforts in hunting down the perpetrators of the Paris terrorist attacks, which had taken place the previous month.

Diesel passed away following multiple gunshot wounds when scoping out an apartment during a raid with the armed police in November 2015.

The tragic incident led to France having a national outpouring of grief. PDSA said of the heroic dog: “His gallant actions helped to protect human life in the face of imminent danger and we are very proud to honour him in this way.”

4. Warrior: The brave war horse that fought beside the Canadian Corps Cavalry during World War I

Awarded the Honorary PDSA Dickin Medal posthumously on 2 September 2014, Warrior received the award on behalf of all the animals that served in World War I.

Warrior was dubbed ‘the horse the German’s could not kill’ as he led the charge of the cavalry in some of the most unforgettable and ruthless battles of the war. Serving on the front line, Warrior was no stranger to machine gun attacks, falling shells and fire. His fearlessness and gallantry in the face of war was inspirational to the soldiers he served with.

Warrior survived the Great War where others fell, returning home in 1918. He died in 1941 at the age of 32.

5. Simon: The surprisingly useful cat on board the Royal Navy sloop HMS Amethyst during the Yangtze Incident

PDSA awarded the Dickin Medal to Simon posthumously in 1949, and he remains the only cat to have received the award in its history.

Simon served on the Royal Navy’s HMS Amethyst and was known for his cheeky persona, which was loved by all aboard. He acted as a lucky mascot to the crew and proved extremely useful when killing off a rat infestation.

Simon came under attack in April 1949 as part of the Yangtze Incident, a clash between the Royal Navy and the People’s Liberation Army during the Chinese Civil War. Although he survived his injuries, he died of a viral infection later that year. He is one of the most decorated cats in history, receiving the Blue Cross Medal and the Naval General Service Medal in addition to the PDSA Dickin Medal for ‘behaviour of the highest order’ during his service.

6. Kuno: The Canine Protection and Detection dog incapacitated enemy insurgents and was severely injured while deployed overseas

Military Working Dog Kuno was awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal in November 2020 for his outstanding service while deployed in Afghanistan.

In 2019, the Canine Protection and Detection dog served in direct support of specialist UK and host nation forces. His job was to detect explosives, find hidden weapons and incapacitate the enemy if ordered to do so. He successfully conducted 16 operations over a five-month period.

During one operation in May 2019, Kuno was released to incapacitate an enemy insurgent through heavy machine gun fire and was shot in his hind legs. He soldiered on and successfully completed the mission, despite his wounds.

Kuno’s injuries were severe – he lost his rear paw and it took months of rehabilitation to help him walk again.

7. Sergeant Reckless: The US Marine Corps horse carried ammunitions and wounded soldiers during the Korean War

Reckless was awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal for her devotion to duty in what was one of the bloodiest battles in modern military history. Trained as an ammunition carrier by the US Marine Corps, the war horse was promoted to sergeant due to her bravery and life-saving work throughout the Korean War.

During the Battle of Outpost Vegas in March 1953, Reckless made an incredible 51 trips from the ammunition supply point to the firing sites – in just one day. In addition, she carried wounded soldiers to safety before returning to the fierce battle.

Her biographer Robin Hutton said: “Although Reckless was wounded twice, she didn’t let that stop her or slow her down. There is no knowing the number of lives she saved. What she did in this battle not only earned her the respect of all that served with her, but it got her promoted to sergeant.”

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