The Defence Secretary intervened yesterday to stop two Army dogs that saved thousands of lives in Afghanistan from being put down.
Gavin Williamson held urgent talks with dog handlers at the Ministry of Defence following widespread protest against plans to give them lethal injections.
It is understood he has pledged to try and find a solution that will see Belgian shepherds Kevin and Dazz rehomed instead.
The dogs sniffed out explosives on several tours of Helmand province.
They were retired from frontline service four years ago and put in the care of trainers at the Defence Animal Centre in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire.
Army chiefs had hoped the nine-year-old dogs would be rehomed.
But the centre’s commanding officer was leaning towards deciding to have them put down after one dog bit a civilian.
A former police hound named Driver was also due to be euthanised.
Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan, who represents the constituency where the centre is based, had called for the dogs to be reprieved.
Sir Alan had written to the MoD in a bid to save the dogs. Last night he told the Mail: ‘If we end up with good news I will be absolutely cock-a-hoop.’
SAS hero Andy McNab also launched a petition to save them, which last night had attracted more than 368,000 signatures.
Almost 400 dogs are currently working in the Army, detecting IEDs, searching buildings and vehicles, and patrolling key sites. Many have served in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia.
At the end of their service they are sent to highly experienced dog trainers within the Canine Training Squadron at the Defence Animal Centre. Their job is to ‘de-train’ dogs to prepare them for the possibility of being rehomed into the civilian population.
They use techniques to relax the animals and make them understand that they no longer have to work. They aim to rehabilitate the dogs in a controlled and safe way, continually assessing their suitability for rehoming.
Although not all dogs are suitable, rigorous procedures are followed to find them homes where possible and there is a waiting list of applicants prepared to take them. If, at the end of de-training, dogs are considered too old, dangerous, below standard, ill or unfit, they will be put down.
An Army spokesperson said: ‘Military Working Dogs provide an invaluable service to our troops and, wherever possible, we endeavour to rehome them at the end of their service life.
‘Sadly, there are some occasions where this is not possible, for example when the dog poses a risk to public safety.’