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Injured canine saves handler, gets medal

Oct. 6, 2012 - 09:20PM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 6, 2012 - 09:20PM  |  
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Members of the Army Special Forces unit took small-arms fire as they descended on a building in Afghanistan on June 4. After calling in an airstrike, the gunfire went silent. The unit, along with a military working dog named Layka, rushed inside.

As Layka rounded a corner, a combatant opened fire, striking the 3-year-old Belgian Malinois multiple times in the abdomen and right front leg.

"She launched into him," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joseph Null, the adoption coordinator for the military working dog program at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, who recounted Layka's story. The dog - who was not wearing body armor because of the heat and stressful environment - was still able to subdue the gunman.

"From there, they medevaced her to Germany," Null said. "When a dog is wounded in action, they receive the same treatment a soldier receives: They send them out as quick as they can."

In Germany, veterinarians amputated Layka's leg. She also lost part of her tail because she gnawed it so severely. Layka arrived at Lackland in July, where she underwent rehabilitation at the Daniel Holland Military Working Dog Hospital.

The dog has since learned to walk on three legs.

Null recalled the first time he interacted with Layka: "I took her treats and became friends with her as quick as I could." She was a little defensive at first, he said. But after he put her on a leash and took her for a walk, all was well.

Since Layka cannot go back to work, Null began preparing her for adoption by her handler, who lives in Georgia with his wife and young son. The soldier is not being named for security reasons, the Air Force said.

"When we found out about [Layka's] story, we wanted to do something to recognize this dog and remind people these dogs are out there doing things to get people's sons and daughters and wives and husbands home," Null said. "I think everybody involved knew if it had not been for that dog, [his handler] never would have seen his wife and son again. He wanted that dog to get recognized."

And so she was. The 341st Training Squadron presented her with a medal of heroism in a Sept. 12 ceremony at the base. The award, though unofficial, was the first of its kind presented to a military working dog, officials said.

Afterward, members of her handler's unit took Layka to her new home in Georgia. The handler recently sent a photo of Layka lying in a dog bed with his 2-year-old son sitting next to her.

"I'm sure she's on the couch in the air conditioning, chewing on a toy," Null said.

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