Devil, Dizzy, Dusk and Dara are at the forefront of the fight against insurgency in Manipur; so much so that they are held in awe by the soldiers they serve alongside in north-east India’s most violent state.
The four are among the 100 army dogs, mostly Labradors and German Shepherds, deployed across the state, performing military tasks such sniffing out explosives, detecting drugs, tracking insurgents and accompanying
soldiers on patrols.
“There are no days off in the counter-insurgency business. Just like soldiers, the dogs work every single day of the week. Their contribution is immense and incredible,” said an army officer who wished to remain unnamed as he is not authorised to speak to the media. Dog handlers in army end up walking their canine companions over 20km every day in a challenging and hostile environment.
The average annual operations launched by the army and Assam Rifles in Manipur involve setting up 52,000 check posts, 42,000 patrols, almost 10,000 ambushes and 550 special operations, with dogs playing critical roles in most missions. The dogs get their only break after a six-month gruelling deployment. During the break, they return to their home base, not for R&R but refresher courses to sharpen their skills.
Assigned to the 3 Army Dog Unit in Leimakhong, Dara and Chaya have acquired cult status at their base and are set to be recommended for the Chief of Army Staff’s (COAS) commendation card for their brave actions in combat zone.
Dara, a four-year-old black Labrador, helped soldiers track down four insurgents in Manipur a few months ago and Chaya, a five-year-old white Labrador, sniffed out a deadly improvised explosive device (IED) in Thoubal district in January 2018, another officer, who is preparing their citations for the honour, said on condition of anonymity.
The 3 Army Dog Unit is one of three such units in Manipur, with about 35 dogs in each. The dogs are aged between two and eight and have microchips in shoulders for electronic identification.
Gracy, a six-year-old Labrador from the 16 Army Dog Unit, won the COAS’s commendation on Independence Day 2018 for detecting an IED on Asian Highway-1 (AH-1) that links Imphal to Moreh, a town bordering Myanmar. Gracy now proudly wears the commendation on her collar.
An army dog’s daily diet consists of 500gm meat, one litre milk, 250gm vegetables and two eggs. Besides food, the dogs love their half-hour massage twice a day.
The names and unique service numbers of decorated dogs are put up on roll-of-honour boards at military units.
One such board at the 3 Army Dog Unit lists the honours and awards won by dogs and their handlers since 1965. For instance, army dog Alex (No. A130) won a cash award of ~1,000 on August 2, 1965, Gisha (No. 1A49) won the COAS’s commendation card on August 15, 1987 and Heera (No. 726A) won the same honour on August 15, 2010. Mala (No. 31A2), however, stands out as the most decorated dog, winning the COAS’s commendation cards in 2001 and 2003, followed by the Eastern Army commander’s commendation card in 2004.