- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Many of history’s richest war-dog yarns tell of canine heroes who showed a natural predilection for the battlefield despite their un-pedigreed and humble beginnings. And while modern militaries worldwide now rely on particular breeds to service their MWD programs — breeds that have proven an exceptional aptitude and drive for IED or narcotic detection and patrol duty — every once in a while a regular ole mutt still proves his mettle.
At just four-weeks old, Brutus, was found abandoned at a local gas station and brought to Whangarei SPCA in the Far North of New Zealand. With floppy black ears, four snowy white paws, and an affectionate disposition, it’s hard to imagine Brutus was passed over for adoption time and time again, but as one of the shelter’s employees, Helena Sweeting said, "every time a potential adopter looked at him, then decided to go with something cuter."
But Brutus showed some remarkable qualities early on — intelligence and an intense drive for fetching, described as OCD-like. Sweeting took note and with the hope she might try to find Brutus another kind of home, reached out to Guus Knopers, a private trainer with decades of experience. He saw Brutus’s potential straight away, saying he could tell, "Brutus had what it took."
When you’ve been training dogs that long you just know by looking at a dog sometimes, at what he does. Brutus was one of those dogs and you could see by the way he wanted that ball. You’d throw a ball into long grass and Brutus wouldn’t stop looking until he found it."
Last week, Brutus passed basic training with "flying colors." Nearly one year after he was rescued, this former stray will soon to be on his way to a "19-week training course" and then "off to do his job protecting soldiers and civilians from explosives in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq."
Details of his official deployment are sketchy, but Knopers has assured Brutus’s former caretaker, Ms. Sweeting and others concerned for the young dog’s welfare that Brutus will "be part of an army unit, part of the team who will be a very, very valuable and well respected member who will be saving people’s lives."
In other, notable, war-dog news: Lance Cpl. Liam Tasker — the fallen handler whose dog Theo succumbed on the very same day, some say of a broken heart — was honored this week by his hometown. The town of Tayport, in Fife, Scotland, added Tasker’s name to its war memorial yesterday, March 1 — the one-year anniversary of his death. The memorial bears the names of the "town’s fallen heroes from WWI and WWII." Tasker’s family attended a rededication ceremony held in the church that also hosted Liam’s funeral. "It is going to be a very emotional week for us all." Liam’s grandmother told the Daily Record. "We will never forget him or Theo."