LONDON – Liam and Theo were a team, fast friends doing a dangerous job – searching out roadside bombs laid by insurgents in Afghanistan.
The jovial British soldier and his irrepressible dog worked and played together for months, and died on the same day. On Thursday they came home together, 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 22-month-old bomb-sniffing springer spaniel mix. The dog suffered a fatal seizure hours later at a British army base.
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.
“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. The funeral cortege of black vehicles drove slowly through the nearby town of Wootton Bassett, where local people line the streets in a mark of respect each time a dead soldier is repatriated.
Dozens stood silently – some with dogs at their feet – as Tasker’s friends and family laid roses atop the black hearse carrying his flag-draped coffin.