LONDON— -- Buster, a 13-year-old springer spaniel, not only steered his owner through war, but braved bombs and bullets to help save the lives of thousands of troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia.
With a heavy heart, Flight Sgt. Will Barrow of the British Royal Air Force announced Thursday the death of his beloved military dog.
“If you’re very, very lucky, there will be the one dog you would lay down your life for, and for me that dog is Buster," Barrow said in a written statement.
Buster, who retired in 2012, died at Barrow’s home in Lincolnshire, U.K. The arms and explosive search dog had completed five tours of duty.
"It was his exceptional efforts in these austere environments for which he will be remembered," the Royal Air Force said in a statement online.
Britain's Ministry of Defence Dog Unit is the largest user of police dogs in the U.K. with over 200 fully trained police dogs and handlers.
The majority of them are used for “general purpose” (to search for evidence, track people and aid their handlers by restraining others), but some dogs, such as Buster, are trained in specialized areas: tactical firearms support arms, explosive search, drug detection and vehicle search.
Recruited between the ages of 1 and 3, armed explosives search dogs, commonly referred to by civilians as sniffer dogs, complete a six-month intensive training course.
"The arms explosive search dogs are a high-profile, effective deterrent used as a pro-active response to the threat from terrorist activity," the Ministry of Defence wrote on its website, adding that their tasks include, "patrolling the bases where fellow British soldiers are based, searching vehicles at check points and going out on patrols on the front line to search for weapons, ammunitions, and explosives."