It’s not every day that Washington honors a dog.
Meet Astra Joan. She’s 7 years old. She works in Lebanon. And she’s the Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI) 2015 Mine Detection Dog of the Year.
“Astra’s my best friend; she’s the cutest dog I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” said Lebanese army sergeant Ahmad Solh, Astra Joan’s handler, who shares in her achievement.
“She’s my other half, and together we are invincible. I have total confidence in her work and I’m 100 percent sure that she doesn’t leave a single trace of a mine, or a little UXO [unexploded ordnance] fragment behind.”
MLI is a Virginia-based nonprofit that works to eliminate the threat posed by unexploded land mines. To date it has trained and donated 205 dogs — training takes four to six months — who have worked in 11 countries. After training, each dog is sent to its new workplace to bond with its human co-worker. That bonding can take several months.
“Would you believe in this highly sophisticated technological world … it is the dog’s nose that is a key asset?” asks MLI Executive Director Perry Baltimore.
Astra Joan works three to four hours per day, covering up to 2,000 square meters. She and her canine colleagues have searched over 700,000 square meters in Lebanon since 2001.
The U.S. helps Lebanon and other countries eliminate land-mine casualties. Thanks to those efforts, 16 additional countries are now free of land mines.