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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Explained: Who is Patron, the little four-legged warrior honoured by Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy?

Patron has so far detected more than 200 explosives, according to Ukrainian claims, potentially saving dozens of lives and preventing serious injuries.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: May 10, 2022 9:59:33 am
Dog Patron at an award ceremony for his owner, a sapper, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, May 8, 2022. (AP)

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday (May 8) presented a medal to Patron, Ukraine’s famous mine-sniffing dog, and his owner for their services to the nation since the Russian invasion began on February 24.

Patron has so far detected more than 200 explosives, according to Ukrainian claims, potentially saving dozens of lives and preventing serious injuries, and has become a canine symbol of Ukrainian patriotism, Reuters reported.

Zelenskyy honoured Patron — barking and constantly wagging his tail — and his owner, Maj. Myhailo Iliev of Civil Protection Service, at a news conference in Kyiv with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“Today, I want to award those Ukrainian heroes who are already clearing our land of mines. And together with our heroes, a wonderful little sapper — Patron — who helps not only to neutralise explosives, but also to teach our children the necessary safety rules in areas where there is a mine threat,” the President said.

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Patron’s story

The little white-and-tan Jack Russell terrier is deployed in the northeastern city of Chernihiv close to Ukraine’s border with Belarus, which Russia put under siege and subjected to heavy shelling for almost six weeks before retreating. Ukrainian sappers are continuing to sweep up munitions and defuse mines as the city limps back to a semblance of normality.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy applaud service dog “Patron” during a news conference, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Reuters)

“One day, Patron’s story will be turned into a film, but for now, he is faithfully performing his professional duties,” Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications tweeted along with a video on March 19, by when the sniffer dog had already helped defuse more than 90 explosives.

Rise to fame

Patron, whose name has been translated into English as “ammo” or “cartridge”, also acts as a mascot of the country’s State Emergency Service (SES). He frequently appears in videos on official Ukrainian social media channels, and in illustrations, toys, and knitted replicas made by his fans all over the country.

A popular sketch shows him urinating on a Russian missile wearing his signature safety vest, the BBC reported; another has him against a split background — with a ball in a park, and with a bombed building behind him.

While Patron has admirers around the world, a report in The New York Times observed that his rise to fame may be part of “Ukrainian efforts to control the war’s narrative with viral messaging”. The report observed that dramatic wartime tales have been a critical part of the country’s information strategy, and Patron’s videos on SES’s Facebook page have got hundreds of thousands of views.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy award service dog “Patron” during a news conference. (Reuters)

The Ukrainian strategy around Patron has been to leverage the Internet’s innate love for dog/ cat videos, combined with the sentiments of sympathy and solidarity for the country in many places around the world to “develop proactive narratives” and “strengthen Ukraine’s image”. The videos have been accompanied by clever messaging — on Sunday, as Prime Minister Trudeau patted his pockets in a jokey show of looking for a doggy treat for Patron, the SES reported that the dog was “extremely pleased to meet a true friend of Ukraine, even though Mr Trudeau did not find a piece of Patron’s favorite cheese”.

Dogs in wars

Dogs have been used to sniff out bombs, mines and explosives at least since World War II. Today, dogs are used by security forces in conflict zones almost everywhere in the world, including in India.

A dog has a sense of smell that is far more evolved than that of humans, and they can, with training, sniff out explosives in landmines or in metal or plastic casing. A dog has an olfactory zone that is 40 times that of humans’; its nose goes all the way to the back of its throat, and contains approximately 300 million receptor cells, compared to about 6 million in humans.

According to an essay in Smithsonian magazine, 35 per cent of a dog’s brain is assigned to smell-related operations; by contrast, only about 5 per cent of the cellular resources of the human brain are dedicated to smelling.

Although Patron is a Jack Russell terrier, the most effective sniffer breeds are considered to be German shepherds, Belgian Malinoises, and Labrador retrievers.

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