Layka is a five-year-old Belgian Malinois who was shot four times at point-blank range during an ambush in Afghanistan back in 2013. This hero dog lost one of her front legs during the deadly melee and despite her wounds, still succeeded in saving many soldiers, including her handler, Sergeant Julian McDonald, from an attacker inside the building  she had been sent to clear. Her life was saved, but the poor dog endured seven hours of surgery and the amputation of one of her legs. (See: Lucca: A Dog For All Seasons.)

Layka was terribly injured and requires much rehabilitation

Those whose lives she saved during combat launched  fund-raising campaign to get her a prosthetic leg. Two of the fund-raisers, Rebecca Switzer and her husband fro Oklahoma, have been helping the dog get the care she needs since 2014. It was then that they first met Layka and Sergeant McDonald. When she was injured again, it was the Switzers who helped to get the dog to the University of Tennessee's Veterinary Hospital to treat a broken paw. (See: Local Hero Awarded Service Dog.)

In her own words to ABC News:

"It's a big injury because she only has one leg. She struggled along and now her other leg is in jeopardy...We love animals and...she's a hero, she saved our troops. She didn't ask to go in...We're just enamored with her and what she has been through in her deployment...It'll be a long to recovery for the 'hero dog'. Before her second injury, she could still attack...She still has a lot of rehab to do." (See: Two Purple Hearts.)

Layka is rewarded for her courage and loyalty under fire

All during her painful rehab, the plan was always to return Layka to her handler, but attempts to contact him were at first unsuccessful. But McDonald himself was determined to bring her home. "She's my rock," he told the press. He fought hard to adopt Layka, and now after filing mountains of paperwork, she has become a part of his family. He and this hero dog were featured in a short film produced last year by National Geographic. (See: The Dog Who Took A Bite Out of Isis.)


Layka on Cover
Heroine Layka


In his own words: "She saved my life, that's why I'm here. So I owed it to her to save her life. That's why I adopted her, and that's why I fought so hard to adopt her even though people say she is too aggressive. if you bring dogs into a home environment, they will become a product of that environment. All animals learn to adapt and survive." (See: The Blind Dog Who Taught Children To See.)

Some feared Layka could not thrive in a family atmosphere

For Sergeant McDonald, adopting Layka as a member of his own family was something he was driven to do, despite some concerns others had that the dog was too violent to be around children. Layka does have her problems, but her former handler believes it is nothing that love and understanding can't cure. Her injuries go beyond the physical, as loud noises affect her and put her on edge, something every soldier who has ever been in combat completely understands. (See: Sergeant Reckless.)

Layka at Home
Layka  at Home

McDonald expressed hope that more military dogs will be adopted by loving families He said: "These dogs are just like our brothers. I have a lot of respect for them, because they do stuff that I wouldn't want to do. Just like us, they deserve to be retired...Our hats go off to them."

And so they do.

Here's to peace and love for a hero dog and a life that has been well served.

See also: Bretagne


National Geographic