A retired US Secret Service canine named Hurricane has earned a record title deserving of a round of ap-paws.
On 9 March 2022, the 13-year-old Belgian Malinois became one of the first recipients of the Animals in War & Peace Distinguished Service Medal during the Second Annual Animals in War & Peace Medal Ceremony.
The prestigious accolade, which was awarded to Hurricane on Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, USA, was bestowed upon him for his work with the US military between 2012 and 2016.
Accompanied by his owner and former handler, retired Secret Service agent Marshall Mirarchi, the US Secret Service Uniformed Division K-9 Officer sat perfectly still as he received the glistening medal recognising him as one of the most memorable animal heroes in US history.
Animals in War & Peace is a non-profit organisation focused on honouring service animals and their handlers.
Instituted in 2019, by Robin Hutton and Mari Lou Livinghood, the Animals in War & Peace Distinguished Service Medal is awarded to animals who work with the military (in a non-combat capacity) or are first responders and have performed acts of extraordinary service.
It is also awarded in recognition of sustained excellence in the performance of duties.
The medal is the American equivalent of the Dickin Medal, awarded in the UK to honour the work of animals in war.
“In 2016, I went to London to receive the PDSA Dickin Medal on behalf of the US Marine Corps horse, Staff Sergeant Reckless, who the PDSA honoured for her heroics in the Korean War,” said Hutton.
“It was then that I realised America needed to do something like this to honour our American animal heroes, and went to work to make that happen through my non-profit, Angels Without Wings, Inc.”
The Animals in War and Peace Medal Ceremony recognises between six and eight animal heroes each year, making Hurricane one of the first to receive the acknowledgment.
The Distinguished Service Medal was also awarded to an additional two recipients, including US Coast Guard bomb detection dog, Feco and WWII dog, Smoky.
Feco, a Hungarian Vizsla, received the accolade after completing over 1,300 separate searches across the Bay area – helping to keep the California coastline safe.
Small in size but big in impact, Smoky the Yorkshire Terrier was posthumously awarded for the role that she played in laying communications wires in the Philippines and for serving as a companion to Bill Wynne, who served with the Fifth Air Force Battalion.
But it’s Hurricane who will forever be remembered as the White House guard dog.
That’s because on 22 October 2014, Hurricane leapt into action to protect President Obama and the First Family from an intruder who had scaled the perimeter fence of the White House and was heading towards the residence.
“The short version leading up to the event is that there were a lot of things happening with the secret service, and there were some security breaches,” said Marshall.
“It just so happened that the president and his family were right inside the front door, and somebody jumped the small fence, then the big fence, and got onto the lawn. He proceeded to come forward and evade several secret service officers.
“The first dog was deployed, and the intruder punched him and kicked him in the face so that dog was pulled out. That’s when I sent Hurricane from the complete opposite side of the north grounds.”
Although the first attempt at intercepting the intruder was unsuccessful, Hurricane was eventually able to subdue him until his Uniformed Division Colleagues made the arrest.
“He went into survival mode, and that’s something that I’ve never seen any dog do,” said Marshall.
“Even as Hurricane was getting hit, he was still driving the individual away from the house and back towards the fence that he [the intruder] jumped.”
Hurricane sustained serious injuries after being repeatedly punched, kicked, and swung around by the intruder, ultimately needing to have all four of his incisors replaced with titanium.
He also continues to suffer from hip problems related to his struggle that night.
“He was slammed so many times to the ground, that eventually his hips started to go,” said Marshall.
“About a year later he ended up retiring at seven years old. He wasn’t able to jump or use his hips, so he couldn’t be a working dog anymore.”
But what did it take for Hurricane to become one of the most celebrated animal heroes in history?
The answer is a high “canine IQ” and plenty of training.
“Hurricane did have some training overseas as a puppy but when he arrived stateside, he was paired up with me a couple of days later,” said Marshall.
“We started training and went through the 10-to-12-week academy together. We were a team.”
However, it’s one specific characteristic that Hurricane possesses which allowed him to succeed as a Secret Service K9.
“A lot of dogs rely on their eyes, their ears, and mostly their smell,” said Marshall.
“Hurricane obviously uses all of those, but he uses his brain as well, where he can almost problem solve.
“Whether it’s remembering something, figuring things out on his own, or identifying a room that he’s already cleared, it’s like he was kind of just born with all the traits that make the perfect working dog.”
One question Marshall is frequently asked is if Hurricane knows he saved the president.
“He didn’t know those were the White House grounds or that the president was behind them,” said Marshall.
“He just knew he was protecting me, and that’s what makes it so special. I watched an animal willing to put his life on the line for me. It was unbelievable.”
Today, Hurricane is living in first class retirement with Marshall, who adopted him after his service.
Even though the duo is no longer in the line of duty, they have continued demonstrating their patriotism in other ways.
As a means of giving back to other working dogs, Marshall founded K9 Hurricane’s Heroes, a federally recognised non-profit organisation providing retired law enforcement and military dogs with subsidised veterinary care so they can live a healthy life in retirement.
“Last year was our second year and we raised two hundred thousand dollars and sponsored 127 retired military dogs from all over the country,” said Marshall.
“We paid all their medical bills in retirement. No matter what is costs or what is wrong with that dog, we cover all the medical bills. That’s how I’m keeping Hurricane’s name going.”
Marshall also hopes to keep his furry friend’s legacy alive by breeding him and raising the next generation of “Hurricanes.”
“That dog is my entire life and the thought of losing him is too much to bear,” said Marshall.
“The plan is to raise a litter of his puppies and train the ones I see potential in.”
Until that moment arrives, the two are enjoying the time they have left with one another, engaging in equal parts work and play.
“I feel like he serves a greater purpose now, so even when he’s tired, I get him up once every two weeks and take him around to raise awareness for his working brothers and sisters out there,” said Marshall.
“An animal like him I believe would pass away because of a lack of purpose, so I’m trying to make sure he never feels that way.”
Besides being astonishingly smart and completely faithful to Marshall, it is Hurricane’s loyalty and commitment to keeping the US safe that truly make him a special breed.
Robin says Hurricane is an incredibly brave dog who could always be counted on to perform, and that his devotion to Marshall is palpable.
“On the night of his heroic feat, he did more than the job he was trained to do,” said Robin.
“That kind of service deserves recognition. He exemplifies everything the Animals in War & Peace Distinguished Service Medal represents.”
The third annual Animals in War & Peace Medal Ceremony is scheduled for March 2023 where once again Members of Congress will honour those four-legged heroes who put their lives on the line to protect others.