There are plenty of medals a human being can be awarded in their lifetime, from the George Cross, awarded for bravery and ‘acts of the greatest heroism’, to the Queen’s Honours.
But our four-legged, furry companions, be they dog or cat, are rarely honored in a similar way, although many of them have made headlines with their acts of bravery – think rescue dogs, for example, although heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
British pet charity PDSA awards the PDSA Gold Medal to pets, as a reward for civilian acts of animal bravery or an exceptional devotion to duty. In short, it’s like the George Cross for animals – the highest possible honor.
This year, the honor was bestowed upon a rather special kind of rescue dog, although his official job title is ‘tracking dog’ and he works for a special operations force.
In South Africa’s Kruger National Park, five-year-old Belgian Malinois K9 Killer has risked his own life a fair few times while saving the lives of African Rhinos – one of the most endangered species on Earth and very popular with poachers.
But Killer and his handler, Amos Mzimba, are out to stop them, and quite successfully, too, thank’s to Killer’s impressive tracking skills.
In the past four years, he has helped stop and arrest 115 poachers, which makes him the most successful dog working with Kruger National Park’s Special Operations Team.
‘It’s an honor to have Killer by my side,’ Amos told PDSA,
‘It means that he has been recognized for his skills and assistance and tracking in arresting poachers. Thanks to him, we are arresting more poachers, but there is a lot more to be done if we are to save the rhino from extinction.
‘Killer is invaluable in that.’
It was British comedian and animal rights advocate Ricky Gervais who awarded Killer with the PDSA Gold Medal for his fantastic work.
The duo’s job isn’t just a walk in the park: the team of handler and dog are helicoptered into the depths of the national park, sometimes several times a day, when there’s a sighting of armed poachers or a dead rhino.
And it’s not without its dangers, either – while the poachers may be out for rhinos, they’re armed and don’t shy away from turning their guns against those trying to stop them.
Killer and Amos had at least one close call, when they were following a group of poachers in the infamous Bangu area; originally part of a four-strong team, including South African Defense Force Personnel, they were separated from the main group when shots were fired.
The duo kept going, with Killer quickly picking up a spoor to track the poachers.
But the shots weren’t the last ones to be fired at them: when Amos shouted at one of the suspects to surrender, all he heard was a shot from a heavy caliber rifle and the bullet closely whizzing past his head.
To save Killer’s and his own life, the handler fired back and then apprehended the two other suspected poachers.
‘The PDSA Gold Medal recognizes extraordinary acts of courage and dedication in life-threatening situations, and Killer is indeed a worthy recipient,’ PDSA’s Director General, Jan McLoughlin, said.
‘His contribution to saving the rhino population has been truly remarkable. His track-record is astounding and we are honoured to recognise his fantastic work in this way.’
And while his name may be scary, Amos calls Killer one of his babies and describes him as very gentle and loving – when he’s not out catching the bad guys, that is.