A British military dog who protected troops by sniffing out explosives and insurgent fighters in Afghanistan has received the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
Mali the Belgian Malinois was deployed to the war-torn country in 2012 and took part in an assault by British troops to secure a key enemy stronghold that was situated in a multi-storey building. Sent through direct fire to search for explosives, he was hoisted up the outside of the structure several times and also skillfully detected the presence of enemy fighters.
Despite being injured by grenade blasts – causing damage to his chest, legs, ear and the loss of a tooth – he carried on, and has now been decorated with the PDSA Dickin Medal.
Director general of the PDSA, Jan McLoughlin, said: “Mali has displayed a truly awesome ability and determination to seek out explosives and insurgents during a key operation.
“To achieve this while exposed to close combat and such intense enemy attack makes him an incredibly worthy recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal. “It is even more poignant that we were able to make Mali’s award today on our charity’s 100th birthday.”
Eight-year-old Mali is the 69th recipient of the medal, which was presented to him at a ceremony in London on Friday. His handler at the time of the seven-and-a-half hour mission, whose identity cannot be revealed for security reasons, was also awarded a gallantry medal for his part in the operation.
After receiving emergency treatment for his injuries, Mali returned home from Afghanistan and has since made a full recovery.
Now retired from fighting on the frontlines, he continues to work at the Royal Army Veterinary Corps Defence Animal Centre in Leicestershire by helping to train new dog handlers. His current handler, Corporal Daniel Hatley, who also trained him as a puppy before he was deployed to Afghanistan, said the medal recognises the “vital role” he played in the assault.
“I am extremely proud of Mali. The way he conducted himself when it mattered most enabled my colleagues to achieve success in close combat,” Cpl Hatley added. The medal was first introduced by the veterinary charity’s founder Maria Dickin in 1943 and is a large bronze medallion bearing the words “for gallantry” and “we also serve”.
In the years since its creation, a total of 31 other dogs, 32 World War messenger pigeons, four horses and one cat have also joined the roll of honour.