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2017-11-08 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

On Veterans Day we stop to honor and express gratitude to all Americans, alive and dead, who have served in the US military. Since 1861, over 3,500 US soldiers have been received the Medal of Honor, our country’s highest military recognition. Britain’s equivalent, the Victoria Cross, introduced in 1856, is more sparsely bestowed -just 1,358 times. The Dickin Medal, the UK-issued equivalent for our furry friends, established during World War II, is the highest military honor an animal can receive, and has been awarded 68 times.

Inspiration for the Dickin Medal: In the early 1900s, the medal’s namesake, Maria Dickin, a social reformer in London, began to notice a large number of the city’s animals were living in appalling conditions. One night, while nursing her own sick puppy, she had an epiphany: It was her destiny to provide animals with free health care.


Simon is the only cat to be awarded the Dickin Medal. Simon is the only cat to be awarded the Dickin Medal. Dickin’s plan -- to provide care for the “sick and injured animals of the poor” -- was initially scoffed at by veterinarians. She was cast off as a crazy old woman. But in 1917, with a small group of supporters, she opened her first clinic in a cellar and began to train her own veterinarians. By the 1940s, her institution, People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), had become one of Britain’s largest animal care facilities.

Around this time, Dickin also devised a plan to recognize the efforts of animals (mainly pigeons, horses and dogs) being used in war -- partly out of love for the creatures, but also as a publicity stunt to raise awareness of the PDSA. In 1943, the foundation instituted the Dickin Medal, an award to acknowledge animals’ “conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving in war.” Since then, the tiny bronze medallion, which reads “For Gallantry” and “We Also Serve,” has only been awarded to the most deserving animal “soldiers”. Awarding the Dickin Medal ended after World War II but resumed after September 11th.

Dickin Medal recipients: In the medal’s first six years (1943-49), 32 of 54 medals were bestowed on pigeons. This isn’t so surprising when you consider over the course of both World Wars, nearly 800,000 pigeons were used to transmit messages -- sometimes flying up to 600 miles to complete the task. Similarly, they were stocked aboard most every British aircraft. If the plane was hit, the birds would be released with location information, and would know exactly where to fly to summon a rescue.

Several of the proud pigeons receiving the Dickin Medal:

*Winky first medal winner came to the rescue when a British bomber crashed in the North Sea in 1942, the crew, without radio transmission, struggled to stay alive in freezing waters. As a last effort, they released Winky who ended up flying 120 miles home to deliver the crew’s location. A search and rescue was formed. Within fifteen minutes, the Royal Air Force had determined where the crew was and they all survived.

*Commando worked with the British armed forces to carry “crucial intelligence.” Performing in more than ninety missions, he received the Dickin Medal in 1945, because of missions where he delivered messages with locations of German troops and industrial sites in France, as well as injured British soldiers.

*Gustav delivered the very first report of D-Day to the British mainland in 1944 -- a feat which required him to fly 150 miles through 30 mile-per-hour headwinds and a terrible storm.

The four WWII horses -- Olga, Upstart, Regal and Warrior:

*Two were awarded for controlling traffic and two for remaining calm during chaos. Olga survived a railway bomb blast that killed four soldiers and destroyed half of her stable, yet she continued to serve her post.

Simon the only cat:

* Found wandering Hong Kong dockyards in 1948, Simon was smuggled aboard the HMS Amethyst. Simon befriended his shipmates, despite leaving gifts of dead rats in sailors’ beds. He was awarded the medal in 1949, for his killing off a rat infestation on the ship and raising morale during an attack. He died from cannon shell injuries the same year.

Several WWII deserving dogs:

*Jet, an Alsatian (German Shepherd) from Liverpool, rescued 50 people and assisted in the rescue of 150 others trapped under blitzed buildings. He was awarded the Dickin Medal in 1945 as well as the Medallion of Valor for his efforts working with the Civil Defence Services of London.

* Rob a Border Collie Rob made over 20 parachute descents with the Special Air Service during the North African Campaign.

* Gander a Newfoundland served with a regiment of the Canadian Army. During the Battle of Hong Kong in 1941, Gander picked up a thrown Japanese hand grenade and rushed with it toward the enemy, saving the lives of wounded Canadian soldiers, but himself dying in the explosion.

Three recent courageous canines:

* Appollo served with the K-9 unit of the NY Police Department as a search and rescue dog. This German Shepherd, along with his handler, Peter Davies, arrived fifteen minutes after the September 11 attack. He was awarded the Dickin Medal in recognition of all 9/11 search and rescue dogs.

* Diesel a Belgian Malinois employed as an assault dog by the French police was killed by suspected terrorists in the November 2015 raid in Paris.

* Lucca a German Shepherd worked with the US Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan for six years before losing a leg in an IED explosion.

Babylon Shelter Adoptable (631-643-9270) at Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Jordan” 17- 642 a one-year-old Dachshund/ Pit is a comical-looking fellow. “Pickles” 7-600 a female orange tabby kitten has become quite friendly after being socialized at the shelter.

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