Animal OBE for outstanding Dorset Search and Rescue Dog

A Search and Rescue Dog from Dorset, who completed hundreds of searches during his exemplary ten-year career has been honoured by PDSA.

Border Collie Charlie, who worked with his volunteer handler Matt Cooke, posthumously received the PDSA Order of Merit – known as the animals’ OBE – for his outstanding devotion to duty and service to society.

Charlie, who passed away in 2017, is the 32nd recipient of the award since its institution in 2014. His medal was presented to canine colleague Zak at a special presentation at Highcliffe Castle on 15 October 2019.

Zac wearing Dorset Search and Rescue dog Charlie’s PDSA Order of Merit

Commenting on the awards, PDSA Director General, Jan McLoughlin said: “We are pleased to announce Charlie as the latest recipient of the PDSA Order of Merit. Although we’re saddened that he was unable to receive his honour during his lifetime, we hope that Matt and his colleagues at Dorset Search Dogs see it as a fitting tribute to his incredible career.

“Our Animal Awards programme seeks to raise the status of animals in society. Charlie’s long and dedicated career epitomises the reason we must continue our Founder’s tradition of honouring the contribution animals make to our lives.

“The PDSA Order of Merit was introduced to recognise animals for their exceptional devotion to duty and service to society. Charlie was a truly exceptional animal and an incredibly worthy recipient of this medal.”

Charlies story

Border Collie Charlie started training as a Search and Rescue Dog with his owner, volunteer handler Matt Cooke when he was 14- weeks old, qualifying in November 2005. He soon attained the highest level of qualification and subsequently spent ten years in service with Dorset Search Dogs and Lowlands Search and Rescue. In this time, he completed hundreds of searches and amassed thousands of search hours.

Charlie was deployed to both domestic and international incidents, helping to find missing people in boggy woodland, dense undergrowth, burnt-out buildings and landslide zones.

Renowned for his phenomenal scent detection, Charlie could cover large areas of ground quickly, freeing up valuable Emergency Service resources to deploy elsewhere. As well as locating missing people, Charlie’s work enabled areas to be eliminated from a search, thus narrowing the focus on the Emergency Services. His methodical and reliable approach to searching earned him an enviable reputation within the Search and Rescue Community.

In addition to his search duties, Charlie helped recruit and train other dogs to work in specialist taskforces. He also represented Search and Rescue Dogs in the House of Lords, raising awareness around quarantine and pet passports for specialist dogs travelling abroad.

Charlie retired at the end of 2015, enjoying a full and happy retirement until he passed away in December 2017.

Charlie handler, Search and Rescue volunteer Matt Cooke, said: “Charlie was my boy, my dog of a lifetime. He was a pleasure to train and work alongside, and I am immensely proud of everything he has achieved in his career. For him to receive the PDSA Order of Merit, even after he has left us, is such an incredible honour. I am thrilled to have Zak – his Hampshire Search and Rescue college – accept his medal on Charlie’s behalf.”

For more information on the Medals and recipients you can visit