Yesterday I went to the IFAW Awards, hosted in the Cholmondeley Room at the House of Lords. The Awards celebrated the achievements and actions of fantastic animal lovers in the UK. Among all of the human recipients of awards for their amazing efforts, we sponsored the award for Animal of the Year.
The winner was nine-year-old yellow Labrador, Tyke. As an eleven-month-old puppy Tyke was adopted from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and began training as a sniffer dog. However, unlike most sniffer dogs you hear of, Tyke doesn’t look for drugs or explosives; he looks for products of the illegal wildlife trade for CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).
In his career he has found such illegally sold items as bear claws and tiger parts, which are bought by collectors and practitioners of alternative medicines. He has spent a sizeable chunk of his life working at Heathrow airport detecting these products, despite them sometimes being buried under layers of packaging inside sealed containers.
I was lucky enough to meet Tyke and his handler at the awards, though it was tricky to get his attention while he was hoovering up dropped canapés and posing for photographs! He was such a bundle of energy and looked very fit and happy for a nine year old Lab. I spoke to a couple of members of the Border Force who were in attendance as part of Tyke’s entourage and they said they were sad that Tyke was retiring but that his successor will do a great job of filling Tyke’s paw prints.
Speaking at the awards presenter Bill Oddie said: “CITES, as we know, work to protect our endangered species and preserve them for the future. Today we honour a dog who is a crucial component in the fight against poaching”.
Last year’s winner was German Shepherd Collie cross Geo who saved a young boy from an oncoming van, taking the full impact of the collision in order to protect the child. One of the humans honoured this year was Russell ‘Buster’ Brown of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service who has been involved in a number of daring animal rescues from owls stuck on balconies to horses stuck in swimming pools. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to ask how the horse got there in the first place!
Seeing animals and people alike awarded for their bravery and heroism makes me wonder about this affinity humans and animals share. Is it purely down to training or is it something more?
Huskies have pulled sleds in arctic environments for centuries, sniffer dogs have been employed by border agencies and the military for drugs and explosives detection, and even dolphins have been involved in surveillance. These animals are highly trained to behave in this way using food and other rewards.
I’m reminded of the animals who have touched my life, none more so than my very own yellow Lab, Buffy. She has been the perfect dog for the 11 years that we have had her, with the sweetest disposition and no trace of a temper. In fact, the only time she has ever shown aggression is when I was attacked by a guard dog and Buffy leapt in to protect me. She was never trained to do this, so what caused her to put herself at risk for me? Do pets have a protective instinct or is it love?
While some domestic animals depend on us more than others, it is often clear that our animals develop love for us; Buffy loves to lie on my feet, my rabbits come out to greet me, even my fish will bump up against the glass when I approach. It’s pretty clear to me that my animals, at the very least, have affection for me.
Animals form bonds with us, just like we do with them. Anyone who has had a pet will tell you that, regardless of species, we share a special connection with the creatures under our care and, sometimes, they take care of us too.