During World War II, Maria Dickin, founder of the veterinary charity People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), was so touched by the plight of animals in wartime that she instituted the PDSA Dickin Medal.
The animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, the bronze medallion acknowledges extraordinary valor and has worldwide recognition as the highest honor that can be given to any animal in military conflict. Exceptional acts of bravery performed on the civil front by police dogs, horses, and guide dogs can also earn the elite medal bearing the words “We Also Serve.”
Perhaps the most tragic Dickin recipient on this list is Diesel, a French police dog. Five days after the 2015 Paris attacks—during which 130 people died—the Belgian shepherd was part of an operation to catch the suspected mastermind behind the massacre. During the raid, the seven-year-old Diesel was sent in to scout the area. The dog’s dash drew fire from within the room. Tragically, Diesel was gunned down. She died from multiple gunshot wounds. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected terrorist, was also killed during the raid. The PDSA awarded Diesel the medal posthumously in December 2015.
During the Chinese civil war in 1949, a British Navy ship was caught in what became known as the Yangtze Incident. The HMS Amethyst was trapped in a siege so bad that it cost 17 Marines their lives and injured the ship’s cat, Simon. During the 101-day siege, rats threatened the food supplies on the HMS Amethyst. But Simon prevented the crew from starving by rooting out the rodents. When the ship finally returned to Plymouth on November 1, 1949, Simon was treated like a hero. Tragically, he succumbed three weeks later while still in quarantine. He was interred at the PDSA Animal Cemetery in Essex with full military honors.
During the D-day operations in June 1944, Paddy was entrusted with a message that contained critical information regarding the progress of the Allies. Carrying the dispatch, the gifted flier avoided German falcons and continued to fly through bad weather. Paddy was given the Dickin Medal for completing his 370-kilometer (230 mi) journey from Normandy to England in less than five hours.
Khan and Lance Corporal Jimmy Muldoon, his handler, worked with the 6th Battalion (aka the Scottish Rifles) to expel Nazi soldiers from Walcheren Island and South Beveland. Muldoon was under heavy enemy fire when his boat tipped over. Rifleman Khan Dog paddled safely to the bank. But Muldoon, who couldn’t swim, was in deep trouble. The dog must have realized the danger because he returned to his handler. Despite still being under fire, Khan pulled the drowning soldier to safety. For this devotion, Khan was honored with the Dickin Medal in 1944.
the story of Warrior is unique in the history of the Dickin Medal. He became known as “the horse the Germans couldn’t kill” and carried a general on his back into some of the bloodiest battles of World War I. He did so for four years. Twice, he was trapped in burning stables. He survived fire from machine guns and mortars from the air, getting buried under rubble and held down by mud. The wounded Warrior returned home when the war ended and lived on the Isle of Wight with the Seely family until he died at age 32.
Lucca, the first US military dog to receive this European award, was a bomb-sniffing German shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix. She did two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. During her last patrol in Afghanistan in 2012, she had just detected a makeshift bomb when a second one exploded beneath her. Lucca survived the powerful detonation, but she was badly hurt and burned. Her handler immediately carried her to the safety of some nearby trees, tied a tourniquet to one of her shattered legs, and called for an emergency medical evacuation. Lucca’s injuries to her front left leg proved too much and amputation was necessary. As a result, the superb sniffer dog had to retire from active duty. During her career, she found nearly 40 improvised explosive devices. Lucca joined the elite Dickin fraternity in 2016 for preventing the deaths of many servicemen and women.
Gander was a large Newfoundland dog and an unwanted pet. When his owners offered him to the Royal Rifles of Canada, they adopted him as their mascot. In 1941, the Royal Rifles received their orders to protect Hong Kong Island against the Japanese during World War II. Gander was allowed to go with the soldiers and quickly showed his mettle in battle. Twice, he viciously attacked the enemy. A third act of heroism cost Gander his life. During the Battle of Lye Mun, a grenade landed near some infantrymen. Gander saved their lives when he grabbed the grenade in his mouth and moved it away from them. Gander was honored in 2000 for his courage; he was the first animal in nearly 60 years to receive the Dickin Medal as well as the first from Canada.
During the 9/11 attacks, Michael Hingson was on the 78th floor of the burning North Tower. Hingson, who was blind, had only his guide dog, Roselle, to rely on. The yellow Labrador guided her owner—and 30 others—down more than 1,000 steps before pulling Hingson underground into a subway station and to safety. Roselle was undeterred by the noise and debris that hit her. Roselle went on to win the American Hero Dog of the Year Award in 2011 and received a joint Dickin Medal for excellence on duty under trying circumstances.
The purebred pointer spent nearly four years in prison camps, starving and drawing beatings from Japanese guards because she kept attacking them whenever they beat a prisoner.
The violent guards used their rifle butts on the dog but weren’t allowed to shoot her. Judy was POW 81A. Her official status as a prisoner of war prevented her execution. In 1946, she was awarded the Dickin Medal for continuing to protect the captives until their liberation in 1945 and for keeping their morale high. Four years later, the brave dog succumbed to cancer at age 13. She was buried in a tailor-made RAF jacket.
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