The four leg canine 'soldiers' play a crucial role in saving lives of troops and civilians, reports Mayank Singh.
The pain in the voice of constable Esakki Muthu was palpable.
Muthu has lost his "son" Pluto in an improvised explosive device blast.
Muthu and the Central Reserve Police Force have not forgotten this braveheart, who gave his life and saved the lives of four others.
Pluto, a sniffer dog of the CRPF led the life of a dedicated combatant of the 229 Battalion of the force and sacrificed his life for the nation.
Commandant Viswanath terms the services of these combatants as 'important' and says, "These dogs add strength to the kind of operations we handle in the jungles."
Pluto was an Infantry patrolling dog of the 229 battalion.
Viswanath is the commanding officer of this battalion and has more than 1200 personnel under him handling the crucial task of countering insurgency in the area.
Pluto had succeeded in sniffing out the IED but it abruptly exploded when it pressed the planted explosive.
There was no physical impact on handler, Esakki Muthu, but it has left an emotional scar on him.
Muthu, while speaking to ANI, said, "He was like my son. He was not even fully grown up as an adult. He saved my life. I did not cry this much when I lost my father in 2006."
According to the CRPF officials, it is rare for a sniffer dog to get killed this way.
The dog was killed after he unexpectedly hit the pressure IED planted by the outlawed CPI-Maoist in restive Bijapur district, south Chhattisgarh.
The IED blast occurred at Murdanda village in Basaguda about 350 km south of Raipur when a patrolling team was out on a search operation in Bijapur.
The braveheart was accorded the status of 'martyr' by the force and he was laid to rest with full honour and gun salute.
Pluto is the second canine after 'Aminka', who has lost her life on January 18 this year in Jharkhand's Latehar.
First of its kind memorial is being made in the name of Aminka.
Both dogs were two of the top class battle-hardened 'Belgian Malinois' infantry patrol canines of the country's largest paramilitary force. Both of them were course toppers at their training academy at Taralu near Bengaluru.
The incident of Pluto's death occurred on January 21 this year when 35 personnel of 229 Battalion, along with Pluto and its handler, went out for road opening duty at the site of road construction from Murdanda camp towards Timapur.
While the Road Opening Party of the 229 Battallion was sanitising the area, an IED with pressure mechanism exploded at about 0850 hrs.
It was placed under soil in bushes with pressure mechanism and Pluto was identifying the suspected place of IED.
During tracing of the IED, Pluto accidentally stepped on the pressure mechanism of the explosive which was placed under soil resulting in blast and the canine lost its life.
The CRPF understands the importance of these four legged soldiers and had established Dog Breeding and Training School at Taralu in August 2011.
The importance of the canine soldiers is emphasized well by Commandant Viswanath.
"While we are working in the life and death situation, these dogs add strength. We are trained to handle face to face encounters, but what takes a toll is the battle of unknown. It is here that our canine wing acts as a force multiplier," he said.
He added that for men on ground, the presence of dogs also acts a psychological hedge and adds to the layer of security.
But, he rues that this huge contribution of dogs like Pluto is not visible to the outside world.
However, for the dog handlers, it leaves an emotional scar.
Muthu was handling Pluto when he sacrificed his life. The loss of Pluto in front of his eyes left him shattered.
"I was mentally disturbed. Pluto was just 1 year 4 months old. He was my son. This incident left such a void that I was not feeling like working and I took leave fro some days."
On asking to take up the dog handling assignment, he said that he will never do it again.
"Dogs in these difficult operational areas are necessity. But, I will not be able to do this duty again. In that incident, if Pluto was not there then our unit would have lost at least three to four jawans. Pluto has given me the second life."
Aminka, a female Belgian Shepherd (Malinois) bitch was born at DB & TS Taralu on March 1, 2014 from own breeding stock. Aminka had undergone training in Batch No. 10 with her two handlers, constable Prasanna Kr Sahoo and constable Prakash Kumar Samal.
After completion of her training, the dog was deployed in 207 CoBRA on May 12, 2015.
While on duty on January 17 this year, at Jharkhand's Burha Pahar in Latehar, Aminka martyred in an IED blast while performing search operation duty.
Samal also sustained minor injury in the incident.
There are nine canine soldiers which have served the force and the country. They have been decorated with highest recognition of the force, Director general Commendation Disc.
The Dog Breeding and Training School at Taralu has trained 15 batches of dogs till now.
The passing out parade of the dogs and handlers of the 16th batch took on March 17 in the presence of the senior officials of CRPF, civil police and central and state government officials.
These dogs are set to be taking up the challenging task of counter-insurgency operations primarily in the LWE (Left Wing Extremism) areas thus playing a crucial role in saving lives of troops and civilians.
A dog generally retires at the age of eight which can be extended if it found suitable by a board of officers. They can be prematurely retired if they don't perform well or fall ill.
Post-retirement, the dogs are looked after by the concerned unit till they die.
The unit spends an amount of Rs 10, 000 per month for their feed, treatment and kit.
In a short span of time, the institute has trained and deployed 245 dogs in fields. Pluto and Aminika have added to the glorious list of dogs which brought laurels to DBTS and the CRPF.
Principal DBTS Deputy Commandant Sunil tells ANI, "I don't get emotional to hear of the loss of our four legged soldiers because it also means that while performing their duty they contributed towards not just saving lives of the others in the unit but have also done a service to the nation."
"In fact, with the gradual training module I have become more confident of these silent soldiers that they will earn laurels for their respective units," he added.
These dogs accompany the jawans of various units involved in handling the insurgency, Left Wing Extremism and in the counter terrorism operations.
In the recent years, the CRPF have lost its 28 jawans in the 50 kilometers stretch between Bijapur and Sarkeguda. But with the contribution of canines this has come down in the recent years.
Master Trainer Sandeep Pandey said, "The formal training of these dogs starts once they complete three months but the separation from mother is done after they are 28 days. This period is spent on socialization. At the age of 3, two handlers are assigned with each dog and the crucial training from here lasts for 40 weeks. The dogs are trained in two trades -- tracking and infantry patrol."
During the training, dogs are trained for IED detection, agility, obedience and assault (to attack enemy, criminal, anti-social elements).
Infantry patrol leads to training in indicating ambush from distance with the smell of human body, gun oils.
In the recent past, dog Hugo of the 94 battalion caught two Naxals along with their weapons.
During this training, the handlers get emotionally attached as these innocent animals get totally dependent upon them for their every need and repose their unflinching trust in their handlers.
The CRPF, with its approximate 240 operational battalions, is today the world's largest para military force.
Being the leading designated counter insurgency force of the country, it is deployed in all the hypersensitive theatres of the country with almost 86 battalions in Naxal affected areas, 35 battalions in Northeast and 60 battalions in Jammu and Kashmir.
Each battalion fighting the Maoists in Jharkhand has at least six to eight sniffer dogs, mostly Belgian Shepherds.
These sniffer dogs move in the jungles with the forces and sniff for explosives and hunt the ultras holed up in the woods. The CRPF is having total 693 dogs out of which 337 Labrador, 271 Belgium Shepherd Malinois, 59 German shepherd.
Another 26 Belgium Shepherd (pups) are undergoing training.