A tiny Jack Russell terrier has won hearts and admirers for helping neutralize hundreds of Russian explosives in Ukraine. He has now earned state honors as well.
Patron, the bomb-sniffing dog, and his owner, Mykhailo Iliev of the Civil Protection Service, received a medal from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a news conference on Sunday, in recognition of their service to the country.
Patron, whose name means “ammunition” in Ukrainian, is credited with detecting more than 200 unexploded ordnance since the start of the war in late February, according to Reuters.
With his powerful snout and tiny protective vest, Patron has become a fixture on official Ukrainian social media channels and an international symbol of patriotism. He even inspired a lot of fan art in the form of illustrations (ranging from heartwarming to tongue-in-cheek) and knitted plushies. His official Instagram page has more than 220,000 followers.
Zelenskyy presented the award at a news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in kyiv, as Patron barked and wagged his tail enthusiastically. At one point, Trudeau laughed and pretended to go through his pockets for treats.
In comments later that day, Zelenskyy described Patron as “a small but very famous sapper” or military engineer.
“A dog that helps clear our land of squatters’ footprints and also helps teach children about mine safety,” he said. “Because of the Russian invaders, this is now one of the most urgent tasks: teaching children to recognize and avoid explosive objects.”
The 2-year-old terrier was professionally trained by cynologists to show how dogs can be trained to perform specific tasks, but at the start of the war he focused on learning how to sniff out mines, according to TODAY Parents.
Iliev, who is from Chernihiv and has been doing this kind of work since 2014, initially bought Patron from a co-worker as a pet for his son. Now the two work together to neutralize mines and missiles left behind by Russian forces.
— UA Stratcom Center (@StratcomCentre) May 1, 2022
Here’s how it works: Patron was trained to recognize the smell of gunpowder. When he smells it, he signals Iliev, who then works with his human teammates to find and disable the devices.
Patron “gives sunshine, gives smiles and gives hope only for victory and peace on earth,” Iliev told TODAY, adding that Patron will work “as long as our people need him.”
When Patron isn’t sniffing out explosives, he’s out in the community doing charity work. That’s according to Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security, which shared a photo of him greeting a child at a kyiv hospital last month.
Everyone in Ukraine knows Patron, the little pup with a big responsibility: he searches for landmines to help defuse them. In his free time, Patron also performs charity work: here he greets the children of the Okhmatdyt children’s hospital in kyiv. pic.twitter.com/kU3Iu0VidW
— UA Stratcom Center (@StratcomCentre) April 30, 2022
The work is hard and obviously exhausting, means of the Belarusian opposition NEXTA tweeted a now viral photo of the pup sleeping during a press conference over the weekend.
But Patron still finds time to indulge in classic canine activities like playing with his friends and eating his favorite treats.
“Patron just loves cheese,” Iliev said. “He is a very active dog who likes to run well with other dogs and then of course sleep.”
In fact, according to a Google translation, the State Emergency Service joked on Facebook that Patron enjoyed meeting Canada’s leader at Sunday’s ceremony, “although Mr. Trudeau didn’t find a piece of Patron’s favorite cheese.”
This story originally appeared in the morning edition live blog