A Spanish Civil Guard dog named Ajax has been honoured today (Tuesday 11 June 2013) with the highest award for civilian animal bravery, the PDSA Gold Medal* – the animal equivalent of the UK’s George Cross.
Ten-year-old explosives search dog Ajax received the medal at a special ceremony in Madrid, in the presence of his handler, Sergeant Juan Carlos Alabarces Muñoz.
Ajax is credited with saving many lives after detecting a hidden ETA bomb on the Spanish island of Majorca in 2009. Just hours earlier, a terrorist explosion had claimed the lives of two Civil Guard personnel.
The PDSA Gold Medal is recognised as the animals’ George Cross, the highest honour for ‘civilian’ bravery. It is awarded to animals that are instrumental in saving human or animal life when its own life is in jeopardy, or through outstanding devotion to duty.
Ajax’s handler, Sergeant Juan Carlos Alabarces Muñoz, said: “The bomb had been planted with the sole intention of killing more Civil Guard personnel. If Ajax had touched any part of the bomb, he would have activated its motion sensor and been killed along with myself and everyone else within range of the bomb. Ajax and I have worked together for over nine years – we’re partners and we understand each other very well. This strong relationship means that even with one small look or signal from him I know straight away that he is telling me something. It is wonderful to see his actions rewarded with the PDSA Gold Medal – there is no other medal quite like this which truly recognises and honours the role of animals in society.”
On 30 July 2009, a terrorist attack took place in Palma Nova, Majorca, days before the King’s annual visit. The explosion took the lives of two Civil Guards, Carlos Garcia Saenz de Tejada and Diego Salva Lezáun.
Suspecting further attacks, Sergeant Alabarces Muñoz and other Civil Guards were assigned to help in the search and were sent to the Civil Guard barracks in Palma Nova. Ajax soon found a concealed bomb that had been carefully attached to the underside of a vehicle near the barracks. The area was evacuated and a controlled explosion of the bomb was carried out successfully. The shrapnel scattered over an area of 100 metres.
Sergeant Alabarces Muñoz added: “The bomb was planted specifically to kill or injure those rescuing the casualties from the first explosion. The targeted vehicle was parked on a public road, close to several hotels. If Ajax had not found the bomb in time, the outcome would have been tragic.”
Commenting on Ajax’s actions, PDSA Director General, Jan McLoughlin, said: “Ajax is a most worthy recipient of the PDSA Gold Medal, which acknowledges extreme acts of courage and dedication in civilian situations. His actions on that day, in the terrifying aftermath of the first bombing, undoubtedly saved many lives.
“He now joins an elite group of the world’s most courageous animals. Each story is a unique account of bravery that both moves and inspires.”
Since its inception in 2001, the PDSA Gold Medal has now been awarded to 22 heroic animals. Recipients include UK police explosives search dogs Vinnie, Jake and Billy for their lifesaving work in the aftermath of the 7/7 terrorist bombings in London, in 2005.