Keda the Hero Dog // Freelance Camera Operator, Edinburgh

We’re dog lovers and there are few dogs who are more deserving of love than Keda, a true Hero Dog.

Keda Sun Hero Dog // Camera operator Edinburgh

We were contracted by The Sun to film Keda, her owner Susie and Jonathan, a veteran of 2 Scots who suffers from PTSD for their Hero Dog awards 2018.

Keda was an IED detection dog who served for 3 years in Afghanistan. Her job was to search up to 100m in front of the patrols, sniffing out explosives and finding a safe route for the soldiers to walk through. The beauty of dogs like Keda was that they can smell the explosive so even when the Taliban adapted IED casings to remove any metal (to avoid detections) the dogs could make the path safe. Not only that, but their presence in the forward operating bases was a source of great morale to the men and women there.

When she retired, she returned to the UK and went through a reintegration process. The army really believe in doing right by the animals that have served with so much selflessness and distinction. That means teaching them simple things, like what a washing machine is. Once accustomed to domestic life, IED dogs are then offered up for adoption. Naturally their handlers are given the right of refusal but thereafter there is a waiting list for adoption with military personnel being given preference to adopt the dogs.

keda the IED sniffer dog // Sun Hero Dog 2018 // Edinburgh camera operato

Keda was adopted by Capt Susie Wilks who eventually transferred to the Personnel Recover Unit in Edinburgh. When there she met Jonathan, a member of 2 Scots who suffers from PTSD as a result of an incident on tour in Afghanistan. He used to drive mastiffs, which were so effectively designed to be impervious to penetrative explosion that the Taliban just resorted to putting huge IEDs in the road to throw the vehicles into the air. One such incident led to the death of three of Jonathan’s comrades.

As an aside, one of them, Bobby Hetherington, had been a member of the same UOTC as I had, though I graduated a year or two before he joined. This gave me prior knowledge of the incident but certainly wasn’t something I was going to mention during the day.

The really interesting thing was how much Keda has helped Jonathan, on so many levels;

  • Interacting with Keda gives Jonathan something to focus on, which allows therapy sessions to take place and for him to talk more freely than if she wasn’t there.
  • He is physically active with here, which releases endorphins.
  • Most significantly, because she is a highly trained IED sniffer dog and because his PTSD was related to IEDs, if she is lying on the floor with her tongue lolling about, it sends a big subconsicous signal to Jonathan that there is no IED threat to worry about. It’s like a big furry sign flashing “It’s safe!”

Keda the Hero dog IED

It was a relaxed day filming. We started off outside so the photographer could take the photos and move onto another job. Fast moving sporadic clouds on a bright blue sky meant that the exposure was all over the place but the a7sii, Canon 70-200mm lens and Hoya ND served me well. We had some great interaction outside to use as b-roll. Then it was onto the interviews. Looking at the options for interview, I wasn’t going to chance filming outside because the wind would cause too much noise and was also causing the clouds to move fast and play havoc with exposure. I found a TV room which I rearranged to suit my needs including; turning off room lights, shutting blinds to cut out daylight, moving a standard lamp in the background to provide background light, etc. I went for a kind of stark interview set up in order to leave nothing to the viewer but the story, to focus the attention on what was being said, not what the room looked like.

In terms of the interview, I asked all the content on the short brief I received but also took the conversation off in other directions, such as Jonathan’s prior love of dogs, the experience with dogs in Afghanistan, whilst always being conscious of the need to avoid going into depth on the actual incidents which led to his trauma. The result was a natural interview which moved beyond the standard linear soldier-trauma-victim trope. There was always going to be more to the guys than that narrative would show. Just because someone has been traumatised, it doesn’t remove their ability to experience joy, or in this case, light up at the question of whether they were dog people or not.

The b-roll was as straightforward as you could get, because a dog will play with a ball until its legs fall off. We took the opportunity to use a range of frame rates to get some chop wobbling slo-mo footage of Keda homing in on the ball.

Anyway, we were delighted to hear that Keda had won the Sun’s competition and been crowned 2018 Hero dog. I don’t think you could find a more deserving recipient.

Keda the IED Hero Dog helping people recover from PTSD



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