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In August of this year it became official. I first heard about it from Kevin MacMillan, who works for a radio station in St. Catherines. He e-mailed me a press release from the Hong Kong Veterans Association of Canada. The Dickin Medal, popularly known as the “animal VC”, has been awarded to Gander, the Newfoundland dog, that I wrote about in the June 2000 Breedlines column. As you probably remember, Gander’s last act of heroism, during the bloodiest battle of World War II, was to pick up a smoking grenade and carry it away from his comrades, saving the lives of seven members of the Royal Rifles of Canada.

The Dickin Medal is awarded by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) and named after Maria Dickin, founder of PDSA, the largest animal charity in Britain. It is granted for “displaying conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty”. After being contacted by the Canadian Vets, the PDSA was initially reluctant to make another award since over half a century had gone by since the last such presentation. When a British veteran’s association also supported the accolade for Gander, the Dispensary made the heroic Newf its 19th dog and first Canadian animal to be so honoured. The medal will become part of the Canadian War Museum’s exhibit on the Defence of Hong Kong; be sure to check it out next time you’re in Ottawa.

As I read the different versions of the story of Gander from all around the world (as far as New Zealand), it became clear that he was even more special than I had realized. He was considered to be large, even for a Newfoundland dog, but his love for people was even more immense. From pulling children in sleighs in Newfoundland to living with his soldier buddies in machine gun nests in Hong Kong, what always came through was his love of people. While Gander had three citations for bravery, his second one probably summed him up best: A group of wounded Canadian soldiers were lying on a road, unable to move. The Japanese soldiers were advancing on this position but Gander intercepted them and ran at them, causing them to move back and change their direction. In so doing he probably saved the lives of the wounded men and this act of bravery was done without harming any of the opposing troops. Moreover, like his initial encounters with the invading soldiers, he somehow earned their respect since, not only did Gander not try to harm them, they never attempted to hurt him. If this canine had been a human, he would be considered to be more than a hero, he would also be declared a saint.

Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979.  In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada.  When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.

Permission is granted for re-publication of the preceding article or excerpts from it as long as the author is credited and the name of the original publication and date of first publication is included.

Dogs in Canada

November 2000