Canberra, Australia — Kuga, a Special Operations Military Working Dog (SOMWD), posthumously received the PDSA Dickin Medal, which is the Victoria Cross equivalent for service animals.

A Belgian Malinois, Kuga served with the Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR), and completed multiple combat deployments to Afghanistan. He received the prestigious award for his actions during Operation Slipper in 2011. An SASR unit was conducting a combat patrol close to a river. The Taliban, however, had prepared an ambush. Kuga sensed the danger and charged straight up to the concealed insurgents. To do so, he had to swim across the river. Whilst charging the enemy, he was shot five times. He suffered direct hits on his face, ears, chest, and back; his front left leg was also broken.

“Kuga took rounds as part of his job he was trained to do, but certainly didn’t shy away from it, he kept swimming and closing the gap towards him,” said Sergeant J, his SAS handler.

Ignoring the pain and life-threatening injuries, Kuga forced his opponents to flee and then swam back to his handler.

“I could see his limbs broken,” added Sergeant J. “I initially called him and tried to coach him across, he moved a little bit and sat back down. Then with a little bit more encouragement he just hobbled down on three legs, back into the water and then swam down back across the river, back towards me.”

The operator administered first-aid and called a helicopter casualty evacuation (CASEVAC).

Kuga underwent substantial rehabilitation in Afghanistan, Germany, and Australia. Despite his improvement, Kuga finally passed away because of his wounds in 2012.

“Kuga’s actions undoubtedly saved the lives of his patrol. He took on the enemy without fear, saving his comrades despite suffering serious injury, and is a thoroughly deserving recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal,” said Jan McLoughlin, the PDSA Director General.

Kuga is the first Australian service dog to receive the Dickin Medal.

Fittingly, the prestigious award was presented to Odin, a fellow SOMWD, on behalf of Kuga. Corporal Mark Donaldson, VC — himself a recipient of the Victoria Cross — represented the SASR on the ceremony.

“Kuga’s actions that day in Afghanistan were heroic. There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that he saved lives. He just wouldn’t give up on his mates and doing his job,” said Corporal Donaldson.

Last year, another SOMWD serving with the Special Boat Service (SBS) also received the Dickin Medal.

“Kuga’s PDSA Dickin Medal is for the all military working dogs who worked alongside us in Afghanistan and every day since,” added Corporal Donaldson.

Instituted in 1943, the Dickin medal is awarded by the PDSA, an animal charity.