Patron wagged his tail excitedly and barked as he was awarded a medal by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday for his bomb-detection services.
The pint-size Jack Russell terrier has won hearts at home and overseas since the start of Russia’s invasion for his role sniffing out land mines and educating children about the dangers posed by the explosives, which Russian troops scattered along their path of retreat from northern Ukraine.
Describing him as a “small but very famous sapper,” Zelensky said in a statement after the ceremony that teaching children to avoid land mines “is now one of the most urgent tasks.”
Dogs have been used for demining since World War II because of their ability to detect ordnance faster than humans. Experts say they’re especially effective in conflict zones, where large amounts of debris impede standard metal detectors.
A dog’s sense of smell is many times better than that of a human, and studies suggest they’re able to sniff out the explosive substances contained in land mines, as well as elements of the metal or plastic housing.
Bomb-detecting dogs have been used around the world including in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Colombia, where aid groups say land mines continue to pose a risk even long after a conflict has ended, hamering reconstruction efforts.
Patron — whose name means “cartridge” in Ukrainian, in reference to firearms — has also become a powerful patriotic symbol for Kyiv, attracting a viral following on social media and inspiring a range of artwork, cartoons and even knit toy. Zelensky on Sunday credited him with detecting more than 200 explosives since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion — an assertion The Washington Post could not immediately verify.
US officials and military analysts have said there is evidence that Russia has used anti-personnel mines and retrofitted anti-vehicle mines in residential and agricultural areas of Ukraine, threatening to upend broad international efforts to regulate such weapons in that region and beyond, The Post previously reported.
Since 1997, the type of land mines designed to kill people — known as antipersonnel land mines — have been outlawed by most countries. The Ottawa Convention that banned their use has been signed by more than 160 nations, though notably not by major military powers including Russia, the United States and China.
Patron received his award during a news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Sunday and toured the northern town of Irpin, which was heavily damaged during the Kremlin’s attempt to seize Kyiv at the start of the invasion.
Trudeau announced an additional $50 million in military aid during his visit, including funding for demining operations. He patted his pockets during the award ceremony, as if searching for a dog treat, eliciting a yap from Patron.
“Even if the dog barked at me, we’re helping fund that,” he quipped Sunday during the news conference, drawing laughter from those in attendance.
Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.