Monday, March 21, 2011

Bob the Builder Award: A Scottish boy and his dog

by Dr. Jeffrey Lant/

This is a story of colleagues… and friendship.

It is a story of love and of a bond that transcends death itself.

It is a story which, such being the way of good stories, takes you, by the powerful chords of memory, from this story…. to your story, for you, I know, have such a story, too, though it may not have tugged at your heart for a long while.

This is the story, then, of Liam and Theo, and you’ll be glad to know it.

Lance Corporal Liam Tasker was a dog handler with the British Royal Army Veterinary Corps.

Theo was his dog.

They were well known in Afghanistan, together day and night. People in Afghanistan, who have so little to smile about, could not help but smile when Theo, irrepressible, running ahead, playing hide and seek was around. Theo made them happy, in the ways that dogs have long since perfected. They liked him… after all he was risking his life every day for them… and they appreciated that.

The people appreciated Liam Tasker, too. Just 26, a Scotsman, and proud of it, from Kirkcaldy, Fife, Liam was someone who didn’t have to go to Afghanistan. However, he had two loves… soldiering and dogs. In the army he got both; if Afghanstan was the destination, so be it.

Their partnership

Liam and Theo had one of the most dangerous jobs of all… searching for explosives, the instruments of disfigurement and death with which Afghanistan is littered, and from which the people will suffer for years to come, so numerous are they and so lethal.

It was Liam and Theo’s job to find these explosives and render them, instruments of sudden death and mayhem, harmless. It was serious, demanding work, and they were did it well. Theo, in fact, was something of a star; he had already drawn praise from Ministry of Defense officials for detecting 14 hidden bombs and weapons caches in just five months on his first tour of duty in Afghanistan. Theo’s success meant this 22-month-old Springer spaniel got the privilege of staying in dangerous Afghanistan another month.

But the bond between Theo and Liam went far beyond their professional association. As was obvious to all, they liked each other. It’s the kind of thing even the least perceptive can see. They were buddies… pals… always the best of friends. And, being young, with energy to spare, they were not above mischief and hijinks, showing off for each other, egging the other on. Thus, they passed their time in perilous Afghanistan, saving lives, enjoying each other’s company.

March 1, 2011

This began as a day like all days in the dangerous war zone that passes for brutalized Afghanistan… but in short order it became a day like no other , for both Liam and Theo.

L/Cpl Tasker suffered fatal injuries in a fight with the Taliban in Helmand Province while he and Theo were searching for explosives. .

Immediately, Theo knew something was very,very wrong. Liam was lying in the dust of Afghanistan, dead… Theo, hysterical, was taken back to Camp Bastion, the main British military base. There he could not be comforted.

Just three hours later, Theo, confused, agitated, alone, his friend Liam gone, died of a fatal seizure brought on by stress.

Now it was Liam who had gone before, while Theo rushed to catch up, death together infinitely preferable to life alone.

This story touched the heart of a great nation, for the British are a by word for loving animals of every kind. They each had their special thought that day… for Liam and Theo, of course, but also for the pet they had loved, who had most certainly loved them, too.

Liam and Theo come home…

On March 10, 2011, hundreds of mourners lined the main street through the Wiltshire town of Wootton Bassett. Liam and Theo were coming home, and everyday people had come, with their dogs and other pets, to say good-bye.

A dozen police and Prison Service dogs made their official appearance, too. The crowd was silent… but the barking of dogs could be heard in the background as a solemn bell rang out to mark the arrival of the cortege; perhaps they knew and understood what was happening…

Liam Tasker’s family was there, too, and they, in their profound grief, took solace from the fact that now, forever, Liam and Theo would be together; such was the loyalty of dog to man… and of that man to his dog. L/Cpl Tasker’s father Ian told ITV news: “my honest opinion on this is, when Liam went down, that Theo didn’t have the comfort from Liam to calm him down.”

Liam’s mother, Jane Duffy, simply said, “I would like to believe Theo died of a broken heart to be with Liam.” I believe it, too.
Today in Afghanistan the unending war goes on. Valiant men and women and dogs in the Dog Training Group will do their jobs and do them well. Some of these will die. Let us hope they find in each other the support and bond now eternally epitomized by Liam Tasker and his dog Theo. Now together, they will remain together for all the cycles to come, glad of each other and young.

May they rest in peace.