Published: Fri 31 May 2013
The information contained herein is embargoed from press use, commercial and non-commercial reproduction and sharing - in the public domain - until Tuesday 11 June 2013.
The third and final episode of the series follows a private and her dog on patrol in Afghanistan, a corporal and his Labrador as they search for explosives and one soldier and her dog as they come under fire from insurgents whilst on patrol on the front line with their unit.
Animal Heroes also catches up with the trainees at the Defence Animal Centre as their course draws to an intense and challenging close. They are put through their paces as they go on exercise with all their kit and their dogs for the first time and are then put under pressure in a simulated prison riot exercise.
Plus they face their toughest challenge yet when they are dragged from sleep in the middle of the night and asked to use their dog to help interrogate a suspect – this is against every rule in the book, but will the trainees buckle under the pressure?
And Animal Heroes goes on a state parade with the Household Cavalry and sees drama unfold when one of the horses throws his trooper to the ground.
There are approximately 100 dog handlers in Afghanistan and 19-year-old Private Mariette Herrgesell takes Animal Heroes on a patrol with her dog Vigo. As the pair leave Camp Bastion to patrol the surrounding area, Pte Herrgesell explains that the protection dogs and their handlers spend a lot of time outside the camp helping with crowd control and offering support to the troops.
She says: “We’re going out to show we are a strong force, there is protection, and, if things kick off, we’re there.”
Pte Herrgesell is seen giving Vigo a workout at night after the heat of the day has died down, and Animal Heroes is there when the pair have to leave camp for an urgent mission on the front line.
Corporal Terry Anderson tells Animal Heroes about his three and a half year old golden Labrador JJ who sleeps with the soldiers in their tent and is ‘one of the lads’.
As Cpl Anderson washes JJ and prepares his meals, Lieutenant Johnny Davies explains to the programme that the pair go at the front of the patrol to search for explosives.
He says: “A dog’s very useful. It means when we identify an area where we think we can be easily channelled or targeted, if we can’t avoid it, we’ll send a dog forward and we can stand off and distance. And it gives us a degree of confidence that there’s nothing in terms of IEDs in that area.”
Cpl Anderson adds: “The Afghans really don’t like dogs. They’ll throw sticks and stones and be aggressive.”
As JJ and Cpl Anderson go on patrol with the unit they come across an Afghan funeral and, out of respect, decide to change direction. Cpl Anderson talks about the injuries JJ has sustained during his tour. He says: “He’s had three broken claws, a hole in his pad, a gash on his leg, a cut over his eye and a sliced tail. He got run over by a motorbike as well. A couple of days ago we were going through a village, heard a massive splash and JJ’s in a hole that he can’t get out of. I had to jump in after him and grab him. It’s a close bond.”
At the end of Cpl Anderson’s tour, he will fly home and JJ will stay to work with his next handler.
Cpl Tia Caddick and her dog Fanta are working in Attal with a high risk bomb hunting search team. The pair are the only females in the unit and share a tent with the men. As they sit together on their bed, Cpl Caddick says of Fanta: “All she wants to do is make you happy. She’s a Goody Two-Shoes with a cheeky side.”
Animal Heroes is with Cpl Caddick and Fanta as they go on patrol with their unit. Weapons caches are discovered in the fields and they must be destroyed before the patrol can continue. However, shortly after destroying them, the unit comes under fire from insurgents just 800m away.
There are tense scenes as troops send out smoke screens to cover the patrol before they can make the seven kilometre hike back to base.
Back in the UK, the documentary catches up with the trainee dog-handlers at the Defence Animal Centre.
As their training draws to an end the recruits are put through their most difficult challenges yet. After entering a prison-riot scenario where the trainees must identify the ring-leaders in the situation and then use their dogs to bring them down, Pte Zina Saunders says: “There’s a very, very high adrenaline situation when you get put in a real-life scenario like that. It’s not going to be somebody saying, ‘shut up.’ They’re going to be trying to hurt you and your dog. It’s definitely a good chance to appreciate what it would be like.”
Finally, before they can pass out, the trainees must go on one final, gruelling exercise. One of the recruits can’t manage, and has to quit, leaving the course for good. The others carry on facing, first, a six mile hike and then, an overnight stay with random attacks on them through the night.
Next, at the end of the exercise as they sleep in their tents, the recruits face their toughest challenge yet when they are woken and asked to use their dogs as weapons in an interrogation of a prisoner. Emotions are running high as the exhausted trainees have to make the most important decision on the course.
And Animal Heroes goes on a state patrol for the Queen with Captain Viky Tannerhill and the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment.
Capt Tannerhill tells the programme that with 200 horses going on parade through London, the vets have to be on standby in case of incident and to make sure all the horses are alright.
Animal Heroes follows the parade as one horse gets kicked by another and one loses its shoe. But Capt Tannerhill then receives an urgent call to say that a horse has been spooked and thown off its trooper at Hyde Park Corner.
Capt Tannerhill rushes to the scene to secure the horse and take it back to base in a horse box. Corporal of Horse Karl Scholes was the trooper thrown off. He says: “The horse fell over on the right hand side and I fell off on the right hand side.”
Later Capt Tannerhill explains that the horse was young and had only passed out that year. She says she thought he had probably slipped on a drain.
Capt Tannerhill, who served on operations before working with the horses in London, tells the programme: “You forget how privileged we are to be part of all this. I know that a lot of the young boys join the Household Cavalry to go to war and go on operations and to Afghanistan, but I try to remember to say to them, ‘Just think about when you’re a grandpa and you can say to your grandchildren, ‘You’ll never guess what I did when I was in my twenties.’’ And that’s quite special for them. It’s a privilege to be here.”