Target, a tawny-coloured mongrel bitch, defied an Afghan suicide bomber, gunshot wounds and an attempted hit-and-run, but fate finally caught up with her in middle America, where an animal control agent put her to sleep in a heartbreaking case of mistaken identity.
US soldiers serving in Afghanistan rescued the dog after she alerted them to an attack in February, by barking at a suicide bomber about to blow them up with 25 pounds of explosives. From that day on Target was treated like royalty by US soldiers in Dand Patan, near the Pakistan border. Five soldiers were slightly injured in the attack and it was suggested at the time that the bombing could have killed as many as 50 troops without Target's intervention.
Sergeant Terry Young – one of the soldiers whose lives she saved – took the two-year-old German Shepherd cross home with him after he finished his tour of duty earlier this year. She was feted as a war hero and even appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
"She got her name because the Afghans we lived with were constantly trying to 'off' her. She's been shot in the leg. The Afghans actually ran over her," Sergeant Christopher Duke, who helped care for Target in Afghanistan and has adopted her packmate Rufus, told CNN in July. "There's no killing this dog, for sure. She's pretty much been through it all," he said.
But yesterday it transpired that an employee of County Animal Care and Control in Pinal County, Arizona had been placed on administrative leave for euthanising the wrong dog.
Target had escaped from the Youngs' backyard and was found wandering the neighbourhood. Staff from the animal shelter picked her up and kept her in over the weekend, oblivious to Facebook messages and radio announcements proclaiming her disappearance.
Then on Monday morning an employee mistook Target for another dog and put her to sleep. She had not been scheduled for euthanasia. "I am heartsick over this. I had to personally deliver the news to the dog's owner and he and his family are understandably distraught," said Animal Care and Control Director Ruth Stalter. "When it comes to euthanising an animal, there are some clear-cut procedures to follow. Based on my preliminary investigation, our employee did not follow those procedures." Young said: "I'm an absolute wreck today and it's everything in my power to hold it together for my family. My four-year-old son just can't understand what is going on with Target and keeps asking me to get the poison out of her and bring her home. They don't want her to be with God yet." Stalter went on: "An investigation is under way and we will cooperate fully.
"We will also thoroughly review procedures to ensure that something like this does not happen again.
"This is unacceptable and no family should be deprived of their companion because procedures were not followed." Target was pregnant when she helped thwart the suicide bomber by attacking him along with two other dogs, one of whom died in the bomber's blast.
The Youngs intend to have Target cremated, according to the Arizona Republic. Rufus, her packmate in Afghanistan, is still alive.