Written on 4th March, 2011.
A few weeks ago, on one of the many, many news feeds that I follow, I came upon a small article about an incredible bomb sniffer dog called Theo. He and his young handler, Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, were doing sterling work in Afghanistan, and had saved hundreds of lives. It was a lovely piece, but it came from a small news agency, and did not get any play in the national press, which I thought was a pity. I was going to put it up on the blog, and filed it in my Things For the Blog file, but I must have got distracted, and never did. I remember thinking it was a curious coincidence, because the other bomb dog I had been enchanted by was called Treo. Treo and Theo I thought; a perfect pair of heroes.
This is the tragic part. This week, Liam Tasker was shot to death while out on patrol. On the Helmand blog, which I follow religiously, his commanders and comrades and family paid tribute to him. It turns out he was not only an exemplary soldier, cheerful and courageous and dedicated, but a remarkable human being. He was absolutely beloved by everyone who knew him, one of those people who light up a room. He was twenty-six years old.
To add to the sadness, Theo suffered a seizure and died very soon afterwards. No one really knows why. It might have been the shock of the fighting, or just a horrible coincidence.
I wanted to tell you this story because it made me think of two things. One is that, because of the fact that there is so much other news at the moment, Afghanistan is off the front pages. It is almost possible to forget that we are in a shooting war, with no end in sight. For some reason, I think it very important that we do not forget.
The second is on the dog theme. Because of my dear dog's illness I have been meditating this week on the love and delight and joy that canines bring into our hearts. But they do more than this. In the case of Theo and Treo, they also literally save lives. Out in the dust and heat of Helmand Province, serious working dogs are sniffing out lethal improvised explosive devices, set by callous men bent on death. If one can say that dogs are heroes, then they are.
You can read about Liam Tasker and Theo here. I'm afraid it will break your heart, but it is a remarkable tribute to a remarkable pair. This is what they looked like:
This is why no one can ever, ever say: oh, it's only a dog.
To make you smile again, there is a lovely thing on Treo the dog here. I put the little video of him getting his medal up on the blog months ago, and it is still one of the sweetest things on the entire internet.
Here he is, with his award for bravery: