Review Blog

Dec 19 2011

Saving Private Sarbi by Sandra Lee

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2011. ISBN 9781 74237 557 1.
(Ages 11+) Recommended. Animals in war. When this story made headlines around the world, it drew attention to the animals that are deployed during war, adding another dimension of courage and loyalty to those fighting overseas. Sarbi, a Labrador/Newfoundland cross, was trained as a EDD (Explosive Detection Dog) and after a warm up stint at Melbourne's Commonwealth Games in 2006, was flown to Afghanistan with her handler, known as D. There she sniffed out IED's (Improvised Explosive Devices) saving the lives of many people in the booby trapped rods in the Uruzgan Province.
But it was after a battle with the Taliban that Sarbi went missing, presumed killed. September 2008 saw the convoy ambushed by the Taliban, and after many Australian soldiers were wounded, and equipment lost, they made it back to their base, not having the capability of staying to search for Sarbi. With D in hospital and then sent back in Australia, reports filtered through of a black dog being seen, but there were also rumours of the dog being killed, so no story was able to be verified. When at last someone came forward as a go between from a Taliban leader asking for money for the return of the dog, people were hopeful that this was Sarbi.
This is a fascinating account of the war in Afghanistan, seen through the eyes of the animals deployed to ensure the place is safer for all concerned. The author goes to great lengths at the start of the book to explain animal behaviour and the training of the animals in the army's care. For animal enthusiasts this will be an absorbing read, and for those interested in how the animals are trained, robustly enlightening.
Other stories are given augmenting the deeds of these animals, and we hear not only of the animal deaths but also of our soldiers. The book gives a sound background to the war in Afghanistan, and the presence of our troops and their work. For students and adults alike wanting to find out more about the war in Afghanistan, this is an easily read introduction to a complex issue, and also a heart warming story of one dog's life.
Fran Knight

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