A French police dog named Diesel who was killed by terrorists in the aftermath of last month’s Paris attacks will be awarded the prestigious Dickin Medal for gallantry.
The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), a British veterinary charity, instituted the medal in 1943 to honor animals that fought for the British Empire during World War II. Considered the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross military decoration, the medal is widely seen as the highest animal honor in the world.
“The extreme circumstances in Paris and the way that Diesel led from the front when the French authorities were trying to uncover the terror cell following the attacks: This was a prime example of an animal – albeit trained for this task – who was put into harm’s way and in doing so paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Deryck Wilson, a spokesperson for PDSA, said in an interview with Yahoo News. “According to the French authorities, he was instrumental in preventing further loss of life.”
On Nov. 18, five days after jihadists murdered 130 people in Paris, the 7-year-old Belgian Malinois — serving with the French National Research, Assistance, Intervention and Deterrence special anti-terrorism force — was part of a raid of an apartment in the suburb of Saint-Denis where the suspected ringleader behind the killing spree and six other terrorists were hiding.
Diesel’s handler, whose identity has been withheld for security reasons, said sporadic gunfire had been coming from the apartment, and the team decided to send in Diesel a few minutes after it subsided.
“After a few minutes, we decided to send in the dog to see if the zone was clear,” he said in a news release. “He did a tour of the first room, then he went into the second room and dashed forward. I think he’d found someone. Then I lost sight of him, and the gunfire started again.”
Diesel’s role, the handler continued, was to open a way for humans with the French national police forces.
“He uses all his senses to detect if anyone is present and if he can get to them, to go and bite them. If not, he stands and barks to indicate where the person is hiding,” he said. “I had absolute confidence in him, and him in me. Both of us knew how the other would behave in the situation.”
The canine was pronounced dead from multiple gunshot wounds at 10 a.m. local time. His death inspired the #JeSuisChien hashtag, which means “I am dog.”
According to Wilson, PDSA recognized that Diesel had the potential to receive the Dickin Medal the moment the organization learned about his story.
“We felt immediately that this had all the hallmarks of a PDSA Dickin Medal winner,” he said. “Nevertheless, the process that we follow in presenting these awards means that an animal needs to be nominated.”
The decision to honor Diesel ultimately followed a formal nomination by The Sun newspaper. The matter was put before the charity’s board of trustees, who unanimously and quickly approved of the honor.
“It was very clear that there was a groundswell of opinion in favor of honoring Diesel,” Wilson said.
Days after Diesel died, Russia announced that it was giving France a German shepherd puppy named Dobrynya in honor of Diesel and “in solidarity with the French people and the police in the fight against terrorism.”
PDSA Director General Jan McLoughlin said in a statement that Diesel was integral to helping French police locate and handle the terrorists responsible for the attacks.
“When news emerged of Diesel’s death, there was a huge outpouring of grief. As guardians of the world’s most prestigious animal awards programme, we were inundated by messages from members of the public to recognise his heroism,” McLoughlin’s statement reads. “The PDSA Dickin Medal recognises conspicuous devotion to duty in the theatre of conflict and Diesel is a truly deserving recipient. His gallant actions helped to protect human life in the face of imminent danger and we are very proud to honour him in this way.”
PDSA's official presentation of the medal, the 66th awarded, will take place in 2016. It has been awarded to 30 dogs including Diesel, 32 messenger pigeons, three horses and one cat.
This large bronze medallion is inscribed with the phrases “For Gallantry” and “We Also Serve” within a laurel wreath. Its ribbon is striped green, brown and blue for water, earth and air; this symbolizes naval, land and air forces.
The honor bears the name of the animal welfare pioneer who founded PDSA in 1917: Maria Dickin.