Today we honour a military dog who charged through enemy gunfire to save the lives of British soldiers fighting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and is to be awarded the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
During a raid, the Belgian Malinois named Kuno tackled a gunman and was hit by bullets in both back legs. After losing one of his paws as a result, he became the first UK military dog to get custom-made prosthetics. Kuno and his handler had been deployed to support elite Special Boat Service (SBS) forces during a night raid targeting al-Qaeda extremists in Afghanistan last year when they came under attack. The forces, pinned down by grenade and machine-gun fire from an insurgent, were unable to advance. Kuno was sent in to break the deadlock. Without hesitation, he charged through a hail of bullets while wearing night vision goggles to tackle the gunman, wrestling him to the ground and halting his attack. Kuno ultimately changed the course of the mission and helped the forces successfully complete it. But during the assault he was shot in both his hind legs and was treated by his handler and medics in a back of a helicopter as they made their way to safety. He suffered severe injuries – including a bullet narrowly missing a main artery – and needed several life-saving operations before he could be flown back to the UK for further treatment. Vets had to amputate part of one of his rear paws to prevent a life-threatening infection taking hold. After returning to the UK on an RAF plane, he underwent extensive reconstructive surgery. Just like injured soldiers, Kuno began a lengthy rehabilitation programme to restore function to his nerves and muscles, and is said to have particularly enjoyed his sessions on the hydrotherapy treadmill. Now retired and rehomed, four-year old Kuno – who was trained to detect explosives, weapons and incapacitate enemies – will be awarded the medal for valour at a virtual ceremony in November.
PDSA director general Jan McLoughlin said Kuno’s “bravery and devotion to duty” made him a “thoroughly deserving” recipient of the Dickin Medal. The prestigious award was first introduced by the charity’s founder, Maria Dickin CBE, in 1943. It is the highest award any animal can achieve while serving in military conflict. Kuno will become the 72nd recipient of the medal, with previous animals honoured including 34 dogs, 32 World War II messenger pigeons, one cat and four horses. One of them was Warrior, a truly worthy winner and already in our hall of fame as Hero Horse number 4, and arguably the most famous of all the Allied horses that went to war in 1914. He was foaled on the Isle of Wight in 1908 and went to the Western Front with Winston Churchill’s great friend General Jack Seely. There he survived all imaginable disasters, was active in many famous battles, including those at the Somme and Ypres, and came back four years later. Eight million other horses and mules did not. Returning with Jack Seely to his native Isle of Wight in 1918 he lived on until the grand old age of 33, even winning point-to-point years to the day that he had led the charge at Moreuil Wood. His obituary in the London Evening Standard in 1941 read ‘Horse Germans Could Not Kill’.