PDSA: working nobly for a noble cause

The PDSA Dickin Medal is the highest award any animal can receive in recognition of conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty whilst serving in military conflict. The award is the brainchild of Maria Dickin, the founder of PDSA, UK’s leading veterinary charity. Here’s more on this organisation and the award.

A humble beginning

PDSA owes its foundation to the vision of a woman—Maria Elizabeth Dickin—and her determination to raise the status of animals and the standard of their care in society. During the First World War, Maria Dickin CBE worked to improve the dreadful state of animal health in the Whitechapel area of London. She wanted to open a clinic where East Enders living in poverty could receive free treatment for their sick and injured animals.

Despite the scepticism of the establishment, Maria Dickin opened her free ‘dispensary’ in a Whitechapel basement on 17th November 1917. It was an immediate success and she was soon forced to find larger premises.

An organisation with a difference

Today, PDSA is UK’s leading veterinary charity, operating a network of 43 PetAid hospitals and 4 PetAid branches. The charity also works through some 344 contracted private practices (known as PetAid practices), which also provide PDSA-funded treatment to pets of eligible owners. PDSA veterinary staff provides more than 1.3 million free treatments each year, seeing on average 4,650 sick and injured pets every working day.

Maria Dickin CBE – PDSA’s founder – introduced the PDSA Dickin Medal in 1943 to recognise animals displaying conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty whist serving with the Armed Forces or Civil Defence units during the First World War.

Meet the heroes

More recently, two canine heroes, Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC) arms and explosives search dog, Sadie, and Royal Air Force (RAF) Police tracker dog, Lucky, were honoured by PDSA for their wartime heroism. PDSA Patron, HRH Princess Alexandra, presented the PDSA Dickin Medal, the Animals’ Victoria Cross, at a special ceremony held at the Imperial War Museum in London.

RAVC arms and explosives search dog, Sadie, a Black Labrador, received the Medal, recognised worldwide as the Animals’ Victoria Cross, for her gallant exploits in Afghanistan. RAVC search dog Sadie was accompanied at the ceremony by her handler, Lance Corporal Karen Yardley from Irvine, Scotland. The pair has worked together for two years and completed two tours of duty in Afghanistan. In November 2005, Sadie located a booby-trap bomb concealed in a pressure cooker. The bomb was concealed behind a two-foot thick concrete blast wall within the United Nations compound in Kabul, Afghanistan. Sadie’s discovery saved possibly hundreds of soldiers and civilians from death and serious injury.

RAF Police tracker dog, Lucky, a German Shepherd, received his Medal posthumously on behalf of four RAF tracker dogs who tirelessly worked in the Malayan jungle between 1949 and 1952. RAF war veteran Corporal Bevel Austin Stapleton (79), Lucky’s handler and partner during the Malaya Campaign, proudly accepted the PDSA Dickin Medal on behalf of his faithful canine companion.

The legacy continues…

Sadie and Lucky bring the total number of PDSA Dickin Medals presented to animals for their wartime heroism to 62. Since the introduction of the award by PDSA it has now been awarded to 26 dogs, 32 pigeons, three horses and one cat.

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