The British soldier and his irrepressible dog worked and played together for months, and died on the same day. On Thursday they came home, flown back to Britain in a somber repatriation ceremony for the soldier remembered for his empathy with animals and the companion he loved.
Lance Cpl. Liam Tasker, a dog handler with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, was killed in a firefight with insurgents in Helmand Province on March 1 as he searched for explosives with Theo, a bomb-sniffing springer spaniel mix. The dog suffered a fatal seizure hours later at a British army base, likely brought about by stress.
Military officials won’t go so far as to say Theo died of a broken heart — but that may not be far from the truth.
“I think we often underestimate the grieving process in dogs,” said Elaine Pendlebury, a senior veterinarian with animal charity PDSA. “Some dogs react very severely to their partner’s loss.”
She said it was not uncommon for pets to respond to an owner’s death by refusing food and becoming sick — and the bond between working dogs and their handlers is especially close.
“The bonding that I have seen between soldiers or police and their dogs is fantastic. When you see them working together, it’s really one unit.”
A military Hercules plane carrying Tasker’s body and Theo’s ashes touched down Thursday at a Royal Air Force base in southwest England. As the funeral cortege of black vehicles drove slowly away, it was saluted by a long line of military dog handlers, their dogs at their sides. A black Labrador retriever sat quietly beside its handler as the hearse carrying the flag-draped coffin disappeared from view.