An Australian Army working dog shot five times by the Taliban has been posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal, widely considered the “Victoria Cross” for animals.
Kuga the Belgian Malinois became the first Australian dog to be so honored since World War II when he received it posthumously on Friday.
Victoria Cross recipient and former military dog handler Mark Donaldson VC and his military dog Odin accepted the medal on behalf of Kuga, who died from his wounds in July 2012.
Mary Reilly from the British-based People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), which awards the Dickin Medal, told ABC News it was given out very rarely for only the most conspicuous bravery among animals.
“Kuga’s sacrifice was an ultimate sacrifice,” she said. “The reason he got the Dickin Medal was he just was so courageous. It has become known as the animals’ Victoria Cross.”
His Australian Special Forces handler described the action in Afghanistan during which Kuga was wounded.
“I let Kuga off to patrol ahead and scout,” Sergeant J said. Before long, the Malinois indicated he could sense something lying in wait.
“As Kuga was starting to swim across the river, that’s when the first burst of automatic gunfire came in around him. I could see the rounds kicking up around him in the water.”
Despite the gunfire, Kuga pushed on to the other side of the river, where he charged the terrorist, and grabbed onto him.
“That forced that insurgent to target him as opposed to targeting us,” Sergeant J said. “The insurgent had an AK-47, and managed to get a shot onto Kuga, which forced him to let his grip go.”
The terrorist escaped, but not before Kuga was shot five times and sustained shrapnel wounds to much of his body. But he didn’t give up.
“Kuga was there, he was sort of sitting there I could see his leg was broken,” Sergeant J said.
“I thought I’d give it a chance and see if he’d come if I called him.”
Slowly, the injured dog made his way to the water’s edge and swam back to his handler. Despite Kuga’s serious wounds, his handler and the rest of the Australian Special Forces patrol did not give up.
Sergeant J provided immediate care, and an emergency medical evacuation was called in.
“He was in a pretty bad way at that point,” the handler said.
Kuga spent the next nine months with vets in Afghanistan, Germany and Australia, who treated him and attempted to rehabilitate him. Eventually, the stress the injuries and recovery process placed on him proved too much, and he died in July 2012.
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