Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.
PC Neil Sampson knows he is alive today thanks to Anya, his German Shepherd police dog. Despite that she is, as he describes her, “big, clumsy and like a bull in a china shop,” Anya saved Neil’s life when he was attacked by a man wielding a 6in knife. Anya fearlessly threw herself at the knifeman, placing herself in front of PC Samson, protecting him from the knife-blows raining down on them both.
Anya was stabbed through the chest – the knife narrowly missing her heart – but she did not give up, protecting her master until they were rescued. She is one of three dogs to have been awarded the PDSA Gold Medal this summer.
The PDSA Gold Medal is the animal’s George Cross, awarded to those instrumental in saving human and animal lives when their own lives were in danger, or to have demonstrated an outstanding devotion to duty.
In July, Anya, along with Staffordshire Terrier Oi, and Beagle Frodo, were presented with their medals by Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra in a ceremony at the Tower of London, which was hosted by animal-loving celeb Graham Norton.
Oi, a plucky family pet, protected her owners when a gang armed with machetes broke into their home in July 2008. Oi received a crushing machete blow to her head, leaving her with devastating injuries. Despite this, Oi continued to guard her home, forcing the attackers to flee before her owners rushed her to Thamesmead PDSA PetAid hospital. Oi made a miraculous recovery, but she sadly died of cancer earlier this year.
Frodo, a five-year-old Beagle, was known for being a “very, very naughty dog”. He chewed the letterbox off the front door, jumped out of windows and tore the heels of all his owner’s shoes. But all this bad behaviour was forgiven when one night, Frodo saved the Barwise family from their burning house.
At 2am on a May night in 2008, faulty wiring sparked a fire in the kitchen of the Cumbria home. The smoke alarm was broken and no one awoke but Frodo. Racing downstairs to the bedrooms, Frodo woke up his owner, Jenny Barwise and her parents, by barking and scratching at the bedroom doors.
However, Jenny’s husband Liam had fallen asleep on the sofa upstairs and could not hear the commotion. The roof had by this time caught fire, and as they tried to fight their way upstairs to wake Liam, the smoke and the flames pushed them back every time. But Frodo didn’t think twice. He dashed up the stairs and jumped onto Liam’s chest, waking him up and guiding him through the smoke to safety.
Frodo emerged from the fire black from nose to tail with Liam right behind him. Just moments later the burning ceiling collapsed on the sofa.
These very special dogs are just three in a long line of brave canine companions to have received this honour. Fifteen other dogs have proved themselves heroes, including a Jack Russell named George, who gave his life to protect two young children from an attack by Pit Bull terriers, as well as three Explosives Search Dogs who proved invaluable in the devastation immediately following 7/7.
The PDSA also awards the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, to animals serving with the Armed Forces or Civil Defence units in any theatre of war. Since 1943 it has been awarded to 63 brave animals, including 32 pigeons, 27 dogs, three horses and one cat called Simon.