'Extraordinary' lifesaving dogs awarded for exceptional devotion to duty in Hampshire

  • ITV News Meridian's Harry Acton reports.

Two "outstanding" dogs are to be given a prestigious award for their "exceptional devotion to duty" by vet charity, PDSA.

Zak, a Border Collie from Southampton and Jerry, a Cocker Spaniel from Hook, will receive their medals later this month.

Both will accept the PDSA Order of Merit at a ceremony which celebrates extraordinary animals who "demonstrate the unique bond between animals and humans".

To date, 36 animals have been awarded the PDSA Order of Merit – 12 horses and 24 dogs.

Zak and his Handler Kev Saunders MBE Credit: Kev Saunders

Zak began his training at just nine weeks old with Hampshire Search and Rescue Dogs. He has since retired at the age of 14 but during his working years, he carried out more than 300 searches.

Just a week after completing his training, Zak was deployed to his first search to support the neighbouring region in Dorset at Hengistbury Head.

This was the first search of many, covering Hampshire and surrounding counties, where Zak’s keen senses and quick actions have helped rescue a wide range of high risk, vulnerable missing persons including children, people living with dementia and those with mental health complexities.

In 2020, Zak’s owner Kev Saunders was recognised with an MBE for his services to Hampshire Search and Rescue Dogs. He credits Zak as being integral to helping him achieve this accolade.  

Reacting to news that Zak was to be given the award, Kev said: “Zak is my world and absolutely epitomises the important role of search and rescue dogs in the UK. I am unbelievably proud to see him recognised by PDSA in this way as he retires, and to see him put on a pedestal that he wholeheartedly deserves to be on.”  

Jerry is being awarded for his support for owner Mark and other veterans. Credit: Blink Creative LTD

Also being honoured is PTSD Assistance Dog, Jerry.

His owner, Mark Lanchbery, 60, suffered serious, life-changing injuries in 2008, while serving with the British Army. 

After a visit to a Help the Heroes recovery centre, Mark met a friend with a PTSD Assistance Dog, and he decided to get Jerry and train with him.

Mark said: “It is an honour to receive the PDSA Order of Merit for Jerry, myself and Service Dogs UK.

"Having Jerry gives me and many other veterans a reason to take on life and learn to laugh and smile again.”

Garry Botterill, Founder, Service Dogs UK, said: “Jerry is an incredible assistance dog for Mark and is a shining example to our other dogs and veterans of what can be achieved.

"He is an inspirational character that exemplifies the charity and the standards we strive for at Service Dogs UK."

Zak and Kev (left). Jerry and Mark (right). Credit: Red Pixel Media / Mark Lanchbery

Zak and Jerry will join three other dogs from around the country at the awards ceremony later this month.

Nina Downing, PDSA Vet Nurse, said: “Zak and Jerry’s close partnerships with their owners are wonderful examples of the vital role animals play in supporting our wellbeing and assisting those in need of help to benefit society.

"They are thoroughly deserving recipients of the PDSA Order of Merit.”