Treo, The Heroic Black Labrador Retriever Who Took On The Taliban
Treo, the black Labrador retriever started out an angsty puppy full of energy and always getting into trouble. But he grew up to become national hero. How did this happen? How did he learn to single-handedly take on some of the most dangerous enemies on the planet, including the Taliban? Without fear and with tons of courage he helped sniff out bombs in war-torn Afghanistan, saving countless lives along the way. Sgt. Dave Heyhoe, his handler, was by his side, but it was Treo that had the most dangerous job in the world. Read on to discover the amazing story of Treo, the black Labrador retriever that took on the Taliban in Afghanistan.
1. An Unruly Pup
Treo, the Labrador Retriever English Springer Spaniel mix, was born in 2001. At first, he lived a very normal life with a family and was just a normal, if disobedient, pup. Treo had issues with misbehaving when he was young.
He would frequently snap and growl at people. And unfortunately, due to his unruly behavior, he was shipped off to the army to learn some discipline. But no one would have expected the great things that were about to be in Treo’s future.
2. A New Recruit
Treo’s former owners donated him to the army in the hopes that it would straighten him out and he would start to behave. So, Treo the black Labrador retriever entered the army’s Defense Animal Center, home to the Royal Army Veterinary Corps.
The center is located in east Leicestershire, United Kingdom and trains around 300 dogs per year. Some of the dogs are donated, like Treo, while others are purchased. The dogs train intensively for around four to six months but not all of them make the cut.
3. A New Job
The majority of dogs, like Treo, that pass through the Defense Animal Center are trained to be detection dogs. Detection dogs are used to sniff out drugs and bombs and that’s exactly what Treo was training to do. But the road getting there was bumpy.
Treo trained for 12 long weeks to become a detection dog. And at first, it didn’t look like he would succeed due to his misbehavior but he pulled through to become one of the best detection dogs in his class.
4. Northern Ireland
After completing his 12 week-long training, Treo officially became a detection dog. He was deployed to Northern Ireland, where he worked sniffing out drugs and possible explosives, day in and day out. Treo never complained once about the hard work.
Treo quickly became one of the best detection dogs out there and he and his handler got along great. But then, Treo’s handler retired from the army in 2005. That’s when everything started to change for the black Labrador retriever.
5. Sargent Dave Heyhoe
Treo the Labrador retriever got a new handler in 2005 named Sgt. Dave Heyhoe. The two of them instantly had a great rapport. Slowly they got to know and trust each other. They would come to trust each other with their lives too.
Little did Sgt. Heyhoe know at the time, but he would soon come to regard Treo as his own son. The two remained stationed in Northern Ireland for a few more years. Then, something very dramatic happened that would change everything.
6. Life Or Death
By the time Sgt. Dave Heyhoe became Treo’s handler, he had plenty of experience dealing with military dogs and creating a trusting bond with them. He joined the British army’s Cheshire Regiment in 1986 and had been training with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps in 1999.
All of this would be critical for what was about to come. Heyhoe and his canine-companion Treo were about to embark on their very first overseas mission and it wouldn’t be any regular mission. It would be a mission of life and death.
Treo and Heyhoe were set to be deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, during the height of violence in the war-torn country. Treo’s job would be to sniff out bombs. Being a dog, he surely didn’t understand what an incredible role he was about to play in the war.
The war in the Central Asian country had been going on for decades, since the 1978 Saur Revolution took place, prompting a Soviet invasion, followed by civil war. The US and UK also invaded in 2001. Still to this day, the country deals with war and violence.
8. Stronger Together
Before they knew it, Treo and Heyhoe were on their way to Afghanistan. They didn’t know exactly what to expect, but they knew the going wouldn’t be easy and that they were up against their biggest challenge yet as a team.
As the helicopter flew into their base the hardships already becoming apparent. The helicopter had to zig-zag to avoid enemy fire. Furthermore, the heat was stifling and the sand was beating against their faces. Treo was outfitted with a special pair of goggles to protect his eyes.
9. The Magical Bond
As the helicopter came in for a landing, Sgt. Dave Heyhoe could sense Treo’s distress. The expert canine looked up at his handler in search of a little comfort. Heyhoe recalled telling him that it’s ok, and that he will protect him with his life.
By this point, as Sgt. Heyhoe would say, the two already formed a magical bond. They were able to tell what the other was thinking and knew exactly what to do in each situation. They were in sync and ready to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
10. IED Central
From the first day in Afghanistan, Treo and Sgt. Heyhoe hit the ground running. The team they were replacing was already on their way into the helicopter, eager to leave. The handler handed him a note that said “Dave, welcome to Sangin. Only 186 days to go- you know the rest!”
The base Sgt. Heyhoe and Treo were stationed at was in a town called Sangin, located in central Afghanistan. The place was nicknamed ‘IED Central’ (IED stands for ‘improvised explosive device’), the same devices that Treo would be required to sniff out and alert the soldiers to, before people lost their lives.
11. A Head Start
Treo and Sgt. Heyhoe purposely deployed two weeks early to give them some time to acclimate to the new terrain and new smells. Heyhoe had planned on training Treo during that period to the local smells, as certain IED devices and material can smell differently in different parts of the world.
That, unfortunately, wouldn’t be the case. The second that the duo landed in Sangin they were informed that they would be heading out to the field ASAP. With no time to prepare, the two went out into the war zone, ready or not.
12. Close But Not Too Close
The relationship between a military handler and their dog is a very close and special bond. But there is also a danger in being too close. If the handler is too close to his or her dog, then they run the possibility that the dog’s performance will be hindered.
Sgt. Heyhoe and Treo have a very close bond, but luckily that has never gotten in the way of their performance together. But that cant be said for all the dogs in their unit. Another soldier, named Marianne, had to reluctantly give up her dog Sasha as the two had grown too close.
Sasha, a female dog, was moved to a new handler named Ken who was stationed at the same base as Treo and Heyhoe. The two teams were quite close. And if truth be told, Treo had a crush on Sasha.
Every time Sasha was around Treo would get all bashful, like he had a shy crush on her. As Sgt. Heyhoe said, it wasn’t surprising because Sasha was “one hell of a classy-looking girl.” Sasha and Ken were transferred to a base called Inkerman, the second most deadly base in Afghanistan.
14. Life In The Field
Treo and Sgt. Heyhoe completed numerous missions successfully and safely. Treo sniffed out the bombs and other IEDs and a team of bomb experts defused them one by one. The process was long and grueling, but no one complained, especially not Treo.
The area of Afghanistan they were in was a war-zone. IEDs were planted by the Taliban all across the area, specifically targeting the NATO soldiers on the ground, hoping to catch them by surprise. But thanks to Treo, they were found and defused.
15. Further Risks
One day the base’s major approached Sgt. Heyhoe and Treo with a special mission. They were tasked with securing the main supply road to the base by searching an old Soviet tank yard for IEDs, a yard supposedly riddled with the explosives.
The only thing was that Sgt. Heyhoe didn’t have any night vision goggles and the mission had to take place under the cover of darkness. According to Heyhoe, Treo already had the most dangerous job in the world and he wasn’t about to further risk his life due to a lack of proper equipment so they didn’t go.
16. Every Movement
Sgt. Dave Heyhoe eventually got his night vision goggles to go on the mission to clear the old Soviet tank yard, which was, in fact, full of deadly IEDs just waiting to blow up soldiers on the main supply road.
When Treo would find the scent of an IED, he’d hone in on it and as the scent became stronger, he would start snorting. That was Heyhoe’s cue to call his faithful K9 back. Otherwise, he might step too close and trigger a bomb. Heyhoe said he could read every movement Treo made. The two were so in sync that they could practically tell what the other was thinking.
17. Target Number One
Treo was so good at locating IEDs in Afghanistan that he became something of a celebrity, even among the enemy. Numerous radio transmissions from the Taliban were intercepted referring to “the black dog.” Treo became the Taliban’s “enemy number one.”
Knowing this made Sgt. Dave Heyhoe all the more cautious. He knew that given the chance, the Taliban would take Treo out. The two stuck close together and watched their steps carefully. But that wasn’t about to stop Treo from doing something amazing.
18. The Daisy Chains
One of Treo’s next big missions was to clear the floors of an abandoned hotel so snipers could get to the roof. The soldiers had never ventured into the hotel. It was unknown territory and anything could be waiting to surprise them.
The team managed to clear the hotel of any possible IEDs. On more than one occasion Treo found what are called “daisy-chain” explosives, multiple IEDs strung together. They explode in a chain reaction in order to take out as many people as possible. Treo saved countless lives that day by finding the daisy chains in the hotel.
19. A Telepathic Dog
One fateful day, the news came in that Ken and his canine companion Sasha had been killed by a Taliban IED. Sgt. Heyhoe, who was very close to Ken, was distraught. Treo knew something was wrong and tried to comfort him.
It was as if Treo knew what had happened, that he would never see his crush Sasha again. “Treo is a very special dog. There’s a reason why I call him ‘my boy’… it’s because I feel safe when he is by my side and I know he has saved my life many times over,” Heyhoe stated.
20. Service Ending
With the tour in Afghanistan about to end, nobody knew exactly what Treo would be doing after the army. He didn’t have a home to go back to, nor a family. But as luck would have it, his handler was also being released around the same time.
It was like a sign from the heavens that both of them were to be released around the same time. Sgt. Dave Heyhoe immediately put in the paperwork to gain ownership of Treo after his service ended. They were already family after all. It was a match made in heaven, for both of them.
21. Recognition For His Work
Upon finally returning home from his heroic military service, Treo was awarded the Dickin Medal, the highest medal any military animal can be awarded. It is the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, which is the British military’s highest honor.
While Treo might not have known what a medal was or what it even stood for, he certainly knew that he had done something good. He also loved all the attention. “This medal is a unique honor for all of our dog handlers, particularly all the military working dogs and their handlers that are serving in Afghanistan,” Sgt. Heyhoe said.
Treo was allowed to retire with his handler and good friend Sgt. Dave Heyhoe. The black Labrador retriever was finally able to take it easy and live the life of a normal house pet. According to Heyhoe, the most strenuous activity that he had to do was play fetch.
“During the six months we spent in Helmand Province the challenge was unrelenting but Treo did not waver from his duties for a second. He’s a true soldier friend,” Heyhoe remarked. The Labrador retriever was responsible for saving countless lives, but even in retirement he was still helping make the world a better place.
23. A Guardian Angel
After Treo’s army service, he kept on helping people. Sgt. Dave Heyhoe suffered from severe PTSD after his tour in Afghanistan but luckily he had his best friend Treo there by his side to help him along. Their bond was closer than ever.
Even without saying a word, the Labrador retriever would know that something was wrong and helped comfort Sgt. Heyhoe. After all that time Treo still never lost his training. He would always find the weed killer in hardware stores and seem to ‘say’ “Look what I’ve found, Dad”
24. A True Hero
Treo retired at the age of nine years old and lived a long retirement with former-handler-turned-best-friend, retired Sgt. Dave Heyhoe. “He’s a proper dog who never gives kisses, but the times when I needed him, he’d sit beside me. He knew when I was suffering,” Heyhoe said.
Sadly, Treo passed away in 2015. He was 14 years old at the time. He lived a long and happy life both as a military detection dog and as a house pet. Heyhoe was heartbroken but began thinking of ways to pay tribute to his courageous dog.
25. The Book
Dave Heyhoe, along with co-author Damien Lewis, wrote a book about his experiences with the amazing Labrador retriever Treo, entitled It’s All About Treo: Life and War with the World’s Bravest Dog. The book chronicled their amazing time spent together.
“The world’s most highly decorated dog, Treo and his handler David Heyhoe did the most dangerous job on earth – sniffing out bombs in Afghanistan – and survived,” the book’s summary reads. Finally, people outside the army would learn of the dog’s incredible story.
The reactions to former Sgt. Heyhoe’s book about Treo were overwhelmingly positive. The book has a rating of four and a half stars out of five possible stars on Amazon and can be purchased in paperback as well as hardback.
The book received rave reviews from online readers. Most stated that the story was inspirational and heartwarming, others wished that they could give a review of ten stars. It seems that many people resonated with Sgt. Heyhoe’s tribute to Treo.
27. Treo’s Story
Now that Sgt. Dave Heyhoe is retired, he spends his time raising money and awareness for soldier charities. He also tours the country telling Treo’s story. He also led a fundraising effort for a very special project that would immortalize Treo forever.
“It’s very difficult at the moment to recruit dogs and we are constantly campaigning. We need to recruit military working dogs all the time so we can carry on the good work they are doing,” Dave Heyhoe told the Daily Mail.
The special project that Dave Heyhoe was raising money for was a statue of Treo. The statue cost $18,500 and was unveiled in 2017 in a park in Congleton, England. “He’s immortalized now and it really does look like him. Everyone will be able to look at him now and see that he did that job for his country,” Dave said.
The statue was sculpted by sculptor and portrait artist Amy Goodman, who happened to have read Dave Heyhoe’s book about Treo when she was commissioned. “I’ve always loved animals and to be involved with something so personal has been quite emotional,” she said.
In remembrance of the amazing and heroic Labrador retriever Treo, Dave Heyhoe got a unique tattoo. It wasn’t any ordinary tattoo; it was part Treo! Treo’s ashes were used in the ink, so he would be with his best friend forever and ever.
The tattoo consists of a paw print and a poem about Treo that goes: “I will lay down my life for you and expect nothing but love in return. I protect my Dad with my life, and would gladly take a bullet in his place.”
The poem continues: “I am the first sent in and sometimes the last to leave. I am the nose and ears of my Dad. I protect and serve him. I would die for him and for you. I only ask for compassion and a kind word.”
Heyhoe says that the tattoo completes him and that while people might think its strange, Treo was like a son to him. “Over the years we have seen gunfire, death and bomb scares together – I’ve been lost without him. Now it feels like Treo is by my side – where he’s supposed to be.”
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