It is a story that almost seems too sensational to be true, but many who have known the loyalty of a dog might not doubt it for a second. Man’s best friend has played a vital role in the Global War on Terrorism as they have the ability to sniff out roadside bombs that would otherwise kill and maim dozens at a time.
Theo was an English Springer Spaniel who served with the British Army as a bomb detection dog and was paired with handler Lance Corporal Liam Tasker. While the story clearly ends tragically for both, it will warm your heart as you become aware of the bonds forged in war and prove once and for all, that dog really is man’s best friend.
Helmand Province, Afghanistan
Some of the most brutal fighting for Coalition forces took place in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. Lance Corporal Tasker and Theo would find themselves in many dangerous situations during late 2010 and early 2011, as they sought to protect coalition troops against the devastating roadside bombs and IEDs that plagued the region.
As a result, both the dog and the handler would often find themselves in an exposed position as they investigated potential threats and were often observed by the Taliban as they did so. Despite the dangers and difficult odds of identifying an IED from any other piece of trash on the street, by March of 2011, Tasker and Theo would become the most successful individual working dog team in Afghanistan.
With 14 individual finds, they led all other teams with such success that Theo’s tour of duty was actually extended a month as a result. Command would often note that Theo was a difficult dog to restrain and reign in during danger. However, they didn’t think Lance Corporal Tasker was very different, as both had insatiable desire to get into the fight and make a difference.
Patrolling the Nahri Saraj District of Helmand with the 1st Irish Guards, Theo and Tasker came under intense fire. During the fighting, Lance Corporal Liam Tasker was struck by a sniper’s bullet and was killed that day in Afghanistan.
Hours after returning to base, Theo suffered a seizure and died the same day as Tasker. While autopsy results were inconclusive, the men of his unit had no question about the cause of death. The devastated animal had been heartbroken, and passed away as a result. Both Tasker and Theo were flown back to the United Kingdom, where Tasker’s mother will neither confirm nor deny that they are buried together.
Yet the story doesn’t end there.
The Dickin Medal
At the height of WWII in 1943, an award to honor the service of animals was created by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, or PDSA. Known as the Dickin Medal, it would go on to become the animal equivalent for the Victoria Cross, with the first recipients being a trio of pigeons who helped recover an air crew which had ditched their plane. Other recipients include fellow pigeons, horses, dogs, and even one cat who had a remarkable ability to destroy vermin on the rat infested H.M.S Amethyst in 1949.
While the award may often serve the purpose of boosting morale more than anything else, the gallantry and loyalty displayed by animals like Theo is worth every commendation.
In 2012, British soldiers and military dogs gathered together at Wellington Barracks in London to recognize the conspicuous gallantry put on display by Theo in Afghanistan. The award was accepted by a soldier and his dog who had served with Liam and Theo. With 14 bomb finds to his name, the number of lives Theo saved could easily exceed triple digits if each one of those massive explosive devices were to find their target. Liam and Theo saved lives together and that is beyond dispute regardless of whether you can accept the premise that Theo died of a broken.
Lance Corporal Liam Tasker’s mother was well aware of the bond between her son and his war dog as she constantly refer to them both as just, “Liam and Theo.” If you didn’t know any better, it would be hard for you to tell that either one was anything but a fellow soldier and brother in arms. Some people scoff at the idea that Theo died of a broken heart, but to many others it made perfect sense.
The story of Liam and Theo is more than a just a moving tale of the bond between a man and his dog. It is the story of two warriors who fell in combat so that others might live.