Working dogs share troops' treats

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: Private Zina Saunders, a dog handler with 1 Military Working Dogs, gives Hazel, who works as a search dog Christmas presents which were sent by the handler's friends and family in the UK. Private Zina Saunders, a dog handler with 1 Military Working Dogs, gives Hazel, who works as a search dog Christmas presents which were sent by the handler's friends and family in the UK.

As troops in Afghanistan join in Christmas Day celebrations, nobody will be left out - not even the working dogs.

While personnel working in Helmand Province open gifts from loved ones, the military working dogs serving with them will also get to tuck into treats sent to them from people across the UK.

Some 70 dogs of various breeds work across the theatre of operations in Afghanistan, carrying out various jobs from searches to force protection.

And their work does not go unnoticed, with gifts of thanks coming from the friends and families of their handlers, but also from complete strangers.

Private Zina Saunders, a dog handler with 1 Military Working Dogs, part of 32 Engineer Group, looks after two dogs - Hazel, who works as a search dog, and Urban, a force protection dog.

The 23-year-old, from Carmarthen, South Wales, who will be spending her first Christmas away from home during her tour of Afghanistan, said the dogs had not missed out on presents.

She said: "I've had family and friends send welfare parcels out and every single one of them has included treats for the dogs so they have been kept well treated with toys and presents.

"It's nice to receive stuff. You get individuals that you don't know sending you welfare parcels as well which is quite nice and they always include something for the dogs because they know we're dog handlers

"It's definitely very much appreciated and it sorts of boosts the spirits a little bit when you're out here."

Pte Saunders, who has been in the army for 18 months, admitted being a bit apprehensive about spending Christmas in Afghanistan.

"It's my first Christmas out here so obviously it's hard being away from the family.

"But I'm excited because if someone asks you next year what were you doing last Christmas you could say obviously I was out here.

"I'd like to be there for my family because we lost my mother before I deployed so it's going to be my first Christmas without her.

"I'm excited to see what it's like but deep down I'd like to be there for my family, but I'm definitely looking forward to being out here."

Troop Commander Lyndall Lohman, second in command of the dog section, said: "People are incredibly generous. We get a lot (of gifts) which is fantastic."

The 29-year-old, from Denbigh, north Wales, who has previously served as a nurse in Iraq before becoming an officer, said the dog section remained incredibly busy, despite British troops reducing in numbers.

"It's massively busy, we are on full pelt all the time, especially with the drawdown now and the force protection issues that come with that in the forward locations, that's when we are busiest.

"They might not be patrolling the ground as much because that's now with the ANA but we are still kept very very busy.

"These guys work so, so hard. The dogs are their lives.

"They come in every single day, night and day, to look after their dogs, it doesn't matter whether it's Christmas Day or whatever."

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