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Pawing off to a new start

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (AP) – After a rocket attack in eastern Ukraine, half of Rambo’s face was mangled and bloody. Shrapnel had ravaged the right side of his head, and it was uncertain if he would survive.

The three-year-old German shepherd, who had accompanied Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines of the war, received emergency surgery that saved his life.

Now, Rambo is training with the Budapest police department in neighbouring Hungary and serving as a reminder that dogs – and people – with disabilities can do great things.

Recovered from his brush with death in northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv province, Rambo is learning how to interact with children, older adults and disabled people at police demonstrations and rehabilitation institutions, according to Lieutenant Colonel Maria Stein with the Budapest Metropolitan Police.

Demonstrating the tasks performed by canine units is part of the department’s crime prevention programme, with a goal of teaching young people to be more tolerant and to respect one another’s differences, Stein said.

Gyula Desko with Rambo, a German Shepherd, who was injured in Ukraine’s embattled Kharkiv region and was later adopted by the Budapest Police’s dog squad. PHOTOS: AP

“Nowadays, unfortunately, it happens that children mock each other because they wear glasses, because they have braces, because their ears look funny or whatever – because they’re different,” she said.

“With Rambo, we might be able to sensitize these children a little and show them that yes, he is injured, he’s different, but he can do the same things as other dogs.”

Rambo’s journey to police service didn’t come easy.

Last year, shrapnel from the rocket attack, which also injured some Ukrainian soldiers, blew away pieces of skull, damaging his jaw and severely mangling his right ear.

After his initial surgery, Rambo was taken to safety in western Ukraine. Violetta Kovacs, head of a Hungarian organisation dedicated to rescuing German shepherds, soon collected him and brought him to a rehabilitation centre near Budapest.

“The dog needed immediate help,” Kovacs, head of the German Shepherd Breed Rescue Foundation, said. “We had to operate again here in Hungary because several of his teeth were causing him great pain because of the injury, which required immediate intervention.”

Rambo spent eight months at the centre, where his jaw was reconstructed, his right ear amputated and several teeth removed.

He underwent training to be socialised with other dogs, Kovacs said, but his fondness for children was clear from the start.

Gyula Desko, a lieutenant colonel with the Budapest Metropolitan Police, then adopted Rambo, providing him with further training and a home. He called Rambo a “very friendly, good-natured dog” who is making good progress in his training and whose survival was “a miracle”.

“Working with him requires more patience and more attention, as we do not know what kind of mental problems his head injury caused him,” Desko said, but Rambo is “so open with people and accepts them, despite his injuries and the shock that befell him”.

It’s those qualities, Desko said, that the police force hopes will inspire those who meet Rambo to open themselves to kindness and acceptance.

“As a police dog, one can see through him that you can live a full life even when injured, and can be a useful member of society and do very diverse things,” Desko said.