He’s the canine ‘Hurt Locker’ of Afghanistan – but now this special four-legged friend is swapping the war-torn country for a well-earned retirement back in the UK.
Blade, a seven-year-old Border Collie, touched down at Edinburgh Airport after five years serving as a bomb-detecting dog alongside Nato troops in Kabul.
The brave pooch, who is the first service dog to be brought back through the airport’s border inspection post, was greeted like a VIP by staff and his new owner Angela Varty, 34, who drove from her home in Northumberland to meet him.
Blade was originally trained in the UK before being teamed up with his handler, Steve Brander, 33, who has worked with him on several missions.
The ex-serviceman, who works for a private company using sniffer dogs to help the army identify explosive threats, said he would miss Blade and had found the last week difficult after putting him on the plane for the first leg of his journey back to the UK.
Mr Brander said: “He’s brilliant. He’s a smart little cookie and it’s always been commented that he never needs a dog handler, just a chauffeur to drive him around. I can control him with hand signals, clicks and whistles.
“I am so sorry to see him go. I have had state generals stop and say hello to him and children who have lost limbs in the medical centre asking us to bring him to see them.”
Other examples of Blade’s bravery have included sniffing out road bombs and staying calm when his kennel collapsed after the base was attacked in December. “We had a car bomb go off 70 metres away from the kennels, which collapsed on all the dogs,” Mr Brander said.
“One of the dogs got hit by shrapnel, but he was OK after having two stitches, and when I got Blade out he was covered head-to-tail in dust.”
Mr Brander explained how all dogs working for the company must retire when they reach seven and was relieved his friend, Ms Varty, had agreed to adopt Blade, despite having worldwide offers.
“I have known Angela for six years and I was talking about Blade having to retire on Facebook and having to find him a new home and she answered almost straight away saying she would take him.
“It’s great because she only lives six miles down the road so I will get to see him when I’m home.”
And after the pair put Blade’s story on the Puppy Rescue Mission website, nearly £2000 flooded in within 48 hours to pay his air fare home.
Ms Varty was also armed with one of Mr Brander’s t-shirts when she met him at the airport so Blade would know she was a friend.
The pooch will now spend his retirement getting plenty of walks in the countryside and chasing chickens on her parents’ farm.
“He’s been out there for five years so it’s quite a big thing for both of them. I think they will miss each other, but it’s nice Blade can get the opportunity to retire,” Ms Varty said. “He’s a real super-dog.”