Saturday, 12 March 2011

Of Dogs and Men

Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, or 'L.T.' as he was known to his friends and loved ones, was shot dead by small arms fire in Helmand the other day, whilst out looking for I.E.D.s with his loved and trusted dog, Theo, who had sniffed out more explosives than most other dogs. Theo was due for a canine medal along with his master, and they will probably both receive a posthumous one, because in a matter of a couple of hours, the doggie died from a seizure as his master's body was taken back to base. Both of their bodies have now been flown back to the UK.

L.T. was known to lighten up a room with his personality, and it sounds as though his dog did pretty much the same thing. The above photo is them enjoying a moment of relaxation.

Dogs and humans have been depending on each other (or 'peacefully coexisting' as in 'fish', according to George W Bush) since prehistory. There are pre-historic roads that lead between the North and the South of Britain, flattened smooth by drovers who used big, indigenous dogs to keep cattle under control before the days of the refrigerated transport of dead meat.

These dogs would often accompany the drover south to north, or vice versa, then make their own way home without the cattle or their master - often a distance of many miles, and they were trained to stop at the very same Inns as the drovers, who had left money with the Landlords for their food and bedding for the night. The Landlords or Ostlers would feed them the next morning, then send them on their way, often to another Inn 30 miles away, where they would be given the same board and lodging until they arrived back at their home farm - sometimes involving a journey of many stops over several hundred miles.

Small, stray dogs in towns and cities would - right up until the end of the 19th century - arrive at coaching inns expecting to work for their evening meal. They would be placed in a small treadmill by the side of the fire and trundle away in it, turning a rotisserie until the meat attached to it was perfectly cooked for the guests over the open fire. Their reward was enough meat to keep them alive, and they returned the next night like true professionals.

Not all dogs could assist in the hunting of game like their forebears had, so - before they became revered as pets - dodges like this were their only way to survive without the kindness of strangers.

Theo - like L.T. - was a true professional. His expertise was sniffing explosives. Some of his mates can pick up on the chemicals released just before their master/mistress has an epileptic fit, but it's the same sort of skill.

Somehow, it is even more sad that L.T. has copped it in Helmand, when his beloved dog seemed to voluntarily follow him.


  1. That's a sad story Tom. Both of man and dog.

  2. I heard just the plain basic facts of the LT/Theo story on the radio and instantly felt troubled.

    George V had a dog who loved him so much that he would faint at the very sight of his master. At their final encounter (before George died), which lasted about an hour, the dog was 'out cold' for most of the time! A bizarre form of dedication.

  3. p.s. Totally unrelated, but George V insisted on having his trousers pressed at the sides, rather than have a crease down the front. I just knew your life wouldn't be complete without that bit of info'.

  4. The love affair between man and dog never ceases to move me. Dogs in particular, can bring the humanity out in many an isolated and emotionally frail person as well as the rest of us that just need a friend...

    I can perfectly understand liam's need to save his hear of this bravery constantly dont you...aka..."man dies saving his dog from river"

    have you ever read kipling's poem "Power of the dog"
    heart warming!

  5. There were a lot of dogs present at the repatriation ceremony in Wootton Bassett this week - military, police and civvy. Very sad.