ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday May 4, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 49

Salute to Snowy

Malaka Rodrigo reports on an Army dog’s courage on the battlefront

The place is Weli Oya and the date March 14. Terrorists are engaging with government troops and a soldier has been injured. Two Army units set out in search of the attackers, and an LTTE cadre is killed. The Army officers decide to enlist the support of their tracker dogs, and the next day Army dogs “Snowy” and “Bonny” are sent to the battlefront in the company of their handlers.

The dogs are given stray items of clothing left behind by the rebels. Snowy, a Golden Labrador, and his handler Lance-Corporal H. Sampath pick up the trail in a seemingly deserted spread of scrub jungle. Spotting someone hidden in the bushes, Snowy rushes forward. Sampath starts firing and the hidden rebel explodes a grenade, wounding both Sampath and dog. Seeing his master badly injured, Snowy goes again for the attacker, despite its profusely bleeding wounds.

Soon, help arrives in the shape of a helicopter with troop support. Lance-Corporal Sampath is airlifted and rushed to hospital. Meanwhile, Snowy’s condition is worsening. The weakened animal has difficulty breathing. Priyankara, the other handler on the scene, rushes Snowy to an animal clinic in the vicinity, in Parakramapura, but the vet is missing.

Snowy is then taken to Anuradhapura, where the animal receives basic medical treatment, and then rushed by ambulance to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at the University of Peradeniya, on the instructions of the teaching hospital’s Dr. Ashoka Dangolla.

By now, Snowy is very weak from loss of blood. Handler Priyankara has hooked the dog to a saline drip, on instructions from Army veterinary surgeon, Captain Sudheera Thalagala. It is 11pm when the ambulance arrives at the hospital. The waiting team of veterinary surgeons, led by Professor Indira Silva, moves swiftly into action. An X-ray reveals 11 pellets embedded in Snowy’s body. Some pellets have penetrated deep, coming close to vital organs such as the heart, but thankfully Snowy is out of serious danger. Meanwhile, the dog must have a blood transfusion, and a matching dog donor has to be found.

Over the next few days, in the expert hands of Prof. Silva’s team, Snowy’s condition starts to stabilise. A group of veterinary students keep vigil by Snowy’s side, checking the dog’s temperature hourly and talking to the animal. But Snowy looks depressed. Dogs are “one master” animals, and the dog’s thoughts are no doubt with its master, whom it had last seen lying badly wounded on the battlefield. The four-year-old Labrador has spent the greater part of its life with its handler, Lance-Corporal Sampath. Depression can slow the healing process, so the veterinary team decides to give Snowy a dose of anti-depressant.

Prof. Indira Silva attending on Snowy

Meanwhile, up in Anuradhapura, Lance-Corporal Sampath is undergoing treatment. Sampath’s Army colleagues have an idea. They decide to videotape Sampath sending his greetings and wishes for a speedy recovery to Snowy. The tape is made and dispatched to Peradeniya, so that Snowy can hear his master’s voice and see his face.

The master-dog reunion takes place a few days later. No sooner Lance-Corporal Sampath is back on his feet, he makes a trip to Peradeniya to see his beloved friend. Snowy is overjoyed to see his master, jumping up and down and running around. It is the first time he has wagged his tail since arriving at the veterinary faculty.

“The reunion was very, very moving,” Prof. Indira told The Sunday Times, after the team’s heroic week-long effort to bring Snowy back to health. “Credit for Snowy’s survival goes to the whole team,” she added. Snowy, now on the path to recovery, has been nominated for the Ranaviru Medal for bravery.

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