Charlie the Border Collie completed hundreds of searches during his exemplary ten-year career as a Dorset Search and Rescue Dog. Now he has been posthumously honoured by UK veterinary charity, PDSA.

Due to kidney issues, Charlie sadly passed away in 2017. On the 15 October 2019, he posthumously received the PDSA Order of Merit – known as the ‘animals OBE’ – for his outstanding devotion to duty and service to society. Canine colleague Zak was there to collect the medal, along with Charlie’s owner and volunteer handler Matt Cooke, at a special presentation at Highcliffe Castle.

Hampshire Search and Rescue dog Zak collecting Charlie’s award with Matt Cooke

Charlie’s story

Border Collie Charlie began training as a Search and Rescue Dog with his owner when he was 14-weeks-old, qualifying in November 2005. He then spent ten years in service with Dorset Search Dogs and Lowlands Search and Rescue, attaining the highest level of qualification. During this time, Charlie completed hundreds of searches and obtained thousands of search hours.

Renowned for his phenomenal scent detection, Charlie could cover large areas of ground quickly, freeing up valuable Emergency Service resources to use elsewhere. He was deployed to both domestic and international incidents, helping find missing people in boggy woodland, dense undergrowth, burnt-out buildings and landslide zones.

As well as locating missing people, Charlie’s work enabled areas to be eliminated from a search, thus narrowing the focus of the Emergency Services. His methodical and reliable approach to searching earned him an enviable reputation within the Search and Rescue community.

Charlie’s most notable work includes:

  • Locating an elderly and vulnerable lady who had been missing for 14 hours in freezing temperatures. Police and ambulance services reported that had Charlie not found her when he did, she wouldn’t have survived.
  • In May 2008, Charlie located a murder victim buried in a large field, leading to a conviction.
  • Also in May 2008, Charlie located a missing 90-year-old dementia patient who had become disorientated and bogged down in mud.
  • In February 2009, Charlie and Matt were sent to Ascension Island in the Southern Atlantic, to help search for a missing woman. Charlie, along with two Thames Valley Blood Detection dogs, searched the entire island in brutal conditions and terrain. Such was Charlie’s reputation, the fact that no one was located gave closure to the search. Clearing a search space in this way is often as important as making a positive find.
  • Charlie was called to search a fire-damaged squat for fatalities. One homeless man was known to have lost his life in the blaze, which took 50 firefighters and 13 engines to put out. Charlie’s skills were called upon to ensure that there were no other fatalities in the building, which had become structurally unsound. His subsequent search enabled the building to be cleared for demolition.

In addition to his search duties, Charlie helped recruit and train other dogs to work in specialist task forces. He also represented Search and Rescue Dogs in the House of Lords, raising awareness around quarantine and pet passports for specialist dogs travelling abroad.

Charlie retired at the end of 2015, enjoying a full and happy retirement until he passed away in December 2017.

Commenting on the awards, PDSA Director General, Jan McLoughlin, said, “We are pleased to announce Charlie as the latest recipient of the PDSA Order of Merit. Although we’re saddened that he was unable to receive his honour during his lifetime, we hope that Matt and his colleagues at Dorset Search Dogs see it as a fitting tribute to his incredible career.

“Our Animal Awards programme seeks to raise the status of animals in society.  Charlie’s long and dedicated career epitomises the reason we must continue our Founder’s tradition of honouring the contribution animals make to our lives. The PDSA Order of Merit was introduced to recognise animals for their exceptional devotion to duty and service to society. Charlie was a truly exceptional animal and an incredibly worthy recipient of this medal.”

Volunteer handler Matt Cooke, PDSA vet Aoife Clancy, Dog handler Kev Saunders & Zac, wearing Charlie’s PDSA Order of Merit

Images by PDSA

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