We often don’t give enough credit to the military dogs that risk their lives every day in conflict zones. Like their human counterparts, these animals may be killed or seriously injured while serving their country, but unlike us – they can never really understand exactly why they are there, or make the choice themselves. All they know in that situation is their training, the job they have to do, and the desire to protect their unit.
The Belgian Malinois is a breed often found among working dogs, as their intelligence suits them to high-stress situations and problem-solving. They are used in the police force, the military, and even by the Secret Service to guard the White House.
Layka, a Belgian Malinois, has worked as a military dog for the last few years, ensuring the safety of the troops. But it was during her stay in Afghanistan that things took a turn for the worse.
Layka was deployed to Afghanistan in May 2013, where she worked as a scout. She would scan the area for the signs of enemy combatants, clearing areas ahead for her unit to advance safely. This means that Layka was sent into a lot of deadly areas ahead of the rest of the unit, often putting her in extremely dangerous situations.
One of these days turned out to be more dangerous than any other, as Layka and her unit found themselves suddenly under fire. They had been caught in the middle of an ambush, and needed to retreat as soon as possible. Layka was sent to scout a nearby building for them to find cover inside. She was successful, helping the unit survive and secure the area – but in the process, she was shot four times.
The enemy shot her at point-blank range, but she still managed to subdue him. Layka was rushed to military hospital for emergency surgery, and after a seven-hour operation she clung to life. She was still badly injured, however, one of her front legs had to be amputated.
Sgt. Julian McDonald, her handler and trainer, felt guilty about what had happened to Layka:
“I felt really bad because I was the one who put her inside of the building, and then at the same time happy that I did it because I was still alive and my buddies to my left and my right were still alive. I owe this dog every moment that I have from here on out. I owe her everything.”
McDonald decided to adopt Layka, hoping that she could live the rest of her life in peace with his family back in the states. It took some effort to adopt her, as some said she was too aggressive to be adopted, yet he persisted.
Despite being supposedly “too aggressive”, McDonald reports that she is gentle enough to play with his young children. “They’re not scary,” he explained, “They’ve done scary things, but they deserve homes and they deserve good homes”.
The family have paid all her necessary medical expenses, and Layka has adapted to her new life outside of armed conflict. She is now enjoying her retirement alongside Julian, his wife, and two children.