- 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
Theo, the springer spaniel who died of an undiagnosed seizure in Afghanistan last year was recently (and posthumously) bestowed the prestigious Dickin Award. Theo’s handler Lance Corporal Liam Tasker was shot and killed by enemy fire hours earlier. In lieu of a confirmed cause of death Theo is rather famously believed to have died of a broken heart. The bomb-detection team held the record for most finds-a record that holds strong to this day.
Tasker’s mother who attended last month’s ceremonies told reporters that she was very proud of her son and commented on her son’s relationship with the young dog, "One couldn’t have worked without the other out there, doing the job they were doing."
The first Dickin Medal was awarded in 1943 and has been given to 64 animals in the years since including: 32 pigeons, 28 dogs, three horses, and one cat. These animals were each presented with a "large, bronze medallion bearing the words "For Gallantry" and "We Also Serve" all within a laurel wreath. The ribbon is striped green, dark brown and pale blue representing water, earth and air to symbolise the naval, land and air forces." The award is named in honor of the woman who founded Britain’s PSDA in 1917, Maria Elizabeth Dickin.
For many years the organization discontinued its practice of handing out the Dickin Award but in the aftermath of 9/11 it was reinstated. It was presented to a search-and-rescue dog named Appollo, a canine with the NYC police department. He was the first dog on the scene after the towers were hit.
Theo is now the 64th in a long line of deserving four-legged and winged recipients.
Rebecca Frankel, on leave from her FP desk, is currently writing a book about military working dogs, to be published by Atria Books in September 2013.