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Actor and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Orlando Bloom holds Patron, a Jack Russell terrier who works as a service dog with the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, in Kyiv on March 25. Within two months of the start of the Russian invasion, Patron found more than 200 explosive devices.UNICEF/Skyba/Reuters

Last month, the Japanese ambassador to Ukraine, Kuninori Matsuda, hosted a very special meeting in his office in Kyiv. The guest of honour was not a politician or business leader; in fact, it was not even a human being.

Patron, standing approximately a foot tall, and with a keen nose for cheese, is a canine celebrity. Originally adopted as a companion dog, Patron, a Jack Russell terrier (his name means “bullet” in Ukrainian) is now a service dog who works with the State Emergency Service (SES) of Ukraine.

In 2022, Japan provided $10-million to Ukraine in support of a mission to demine the country. Patron is helping fulfill the mission; within two months of the start of the Russian invasion, he found more than 200 explosive devices. Dogs (and other small mammals such as rats) can be trained to locate mines in terrain where a mine detector may not work properly, due to their keen sense of smell.

It was not the first time Patron had been honoured by politicians. Last May, Patron appeared during the ceremonial meeting of two state leaders, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv. The dog stood in front of both politicians, happily wagging his tail while Mr. Zelensky handed a medal to the dog’s owner, emergency ministry employee Mykhailo Iliev. Mr. Iliev received two awards from the head of the state – one for Patron, for loyal service, and one for himself, for courage. The work Patron does is not without risk. While he may be too light in weight to trigger the larger explosives, he still has to navigate around working with smaller, more sensitive mines.

Ukraine remains the most mined country in the world. Nearly 30 per cent of the land, or 250,000 square kilometres, is mined, according to official SES data – an area approximately the size of Oregon. During the summer harvest of 2022, several farmers were killed in the Kharkiv and Sumy regions when their tractors hit landmines during fieldwork. The threat is not only the mines, but the non-exploded projectiles laying on the ground in places that were once hot battlefields.

Mr. Iliev, head of the SES pyrotechnic working group in the Chernihiv region, bought the dog as a present for his son in 2019. “I just took him to my office from time to time, because my son was at school and the dog should not be left alone,” he said. The terrier with a good pedigree was supposed to be the star of dog exhibitions. “I could not imagine the situation when he [would] become famous for the whole country – not because of his participation in exhibitions, but due to his demining skills.” But being at SES allowed the alert young dog to interact with dog trainers, and so his work began.

Chernihiv region was occupied by the Russian army beginning in the late days of February (right after the war started) until early April, 2022. Soon after, the SES started searching for explosives in the region. Patron, the dog who found the most mines, soon became a hero in local media.

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But demining is not Patron’s only job. He also is teaching children to be careful and follow the rules, should they ever encounter an unknown object. Mr. Iliev and Patron regularly visit schools in Ukraine and provide lessons for the children about how to manage the dangers in liberated areas. “Kids much better understand safety rules when they are explained not by using some boring pictures but in the form of a game with the participation of the dog,” Mr. Iliev explained.

Shortly after receiving the medal from Mr. Zelensky, Patron was honoured again. Last May, he got the prestigious “Palm Dog Award” from the International Cannes Film Festival. Later, in November, he received a special title – Goodwill Dog – from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Ukraine. As UNICEF reported, it was “for the first time in the history of the organization” that a dog obtained such status.

The YouTube channel @patronthedog was launched in July, 2022, and cartoon depictions of Patron now have been viewed 7.7 million times. Other social-media accounts also run by SES have been popular – on Instagram, he has 418,000 followers; on Twitter 76,200; and half a million on TikTok.

T-shirts feature his photo and toys have popped up. In November, 2022, Ukrainian manufacturer Collar released a series of goods, including leashes, harnesses and pet tags, incorporating Patron’s image. Many of the products featuring Patron are used to collect funds for the demining of Ukraine and for different animal charity projects.

It’s not only SES that has a famous dog. In January, National Police of Ukraine published social-media stories about Cocker Black, who, accompanied by rescue police teams, is helping children from front-line villages and cities such as Bakhmut. He works as a therapy dog, playing with kids who must endure the stress of being evacuated and the constant threat of living in a war zone.

Unfortunately, both dogs still have a lot of work to do. Police continue to evacuate civilians from dangerous territories and the SES is still far from finishing the process of demining. “Ukraine will need 10 years to finish the demining of the agricultural lands of the country,” Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said in April. The State Emergency Service is increasing its staff with 400 new sappers. And it definitely will need more dogs like Patron.