A LITTLE under two years ago, PC Dave Wardell and his police dog, Finn, were chasing a robbery suspect when he turned and attacked them with a knife. Finn leapt to defend PC Wardell sustaining several serious stab wounds to the head and chest. One of the cuts punctured a lung. Finn’s bravery stopped the blade from reaching PC Wardell and instead of receiving multiple stab wounds himself, he “only” suffered a slash across his hand.
Finn however was not so lucky, despite being stabbed through the lung, he held onto the suspect for long enough for other Police units to arrive and arrest the suspect. He was not expected to live through the night but after four hours of surgery, stitches, clamps, chest drains and a ten-minute dash to a specialist surgeon, he survived.
It was a fraught week that followed for PC Wardell. For police dog handlers, these animals are not just tools that they use in their daily duty, they are their partners, pets and friends and deserve to be protected as such.
After the incident, PC Wardell was incensed to discover that the suspect would be charged for aggravated bodily harm for his attack on PC Wardell but only criminal damage for the horrendous injuries he caused to Finn. After six months of legal arguments, the attacker was found guilty but this process was long and too convoluted.
PC Wardell started the campaign for Finn’s Law (www.finnslaw.com, @finnforchange) with the aim of bringing about an end to the poor legal treatment of police animals and creating a new law that covers all service animals. One that protects them as well as it protects their human handlers and other animals. The attack on Finn was horrific and police animals are facing attack daily across the UK but very few are pursued through the courts. This is due to the lack of an appropriate offence with which to charge a suspect.
So far the Finn’s Law campaign has led to sentencing guidelines being introduced in England and Wales in March 2017. This is a small step forward and although welcome, it is insufficient as they can only be taken into account as an aggravating factor when a court is considering a suitable sentence.
When I discovered this campaign I did some homework and discovered that Scotland has the same problem: there are no specific laws which protect any of the almost 200 police dogs and horses active across Scotland.
I was stunned. I could not understand why we are not protecting our service animals to the same extent that we protect our brave officers. We can and should be taking action and show that Scotland cares about the animals in it’s service.
In April I approached Police Scotland and arranged to visit their dog training facility in Baluniefield, Dundee, to find out more about what service animals are involved in, the risks and the relationships. There I met several officers and their dogs. In particular, I took my turn in a padded suit then proceeded to aggressively threaten and attack an officer… the handler’s dog reacted immediately and as it should: “neutralising” me very effectively and keeping me neutralised, until the handler instructed him to return to his side. At which point the dog calmly released me and trotted back. It was terrifying, sobering but hugely effective. And a very good example of how highly trained, obedient but effective these dogs are.
I also met a drug sniffer dog and his handler. Sniffer dogs do vital work in our ports and streets to seek out drugs and stop them entering our country illegally.
The work that these men, women, dogs and horses do every day is phenomenal and our animals deserve more than the same protections as plant pots and windows!
To that end, I have launched our own campaign in Scotland to persuade the Scottish Government to introduce a new law to make it a criminal offence to harm or kill a service animal.
This new law will make it much simpler to prosecute anyone who harms or kills a service animal while in the pursuit of their duty and afford our loyal animals the same legal protection as their handlers and other members of the public and police force. We feel that this is only fair and right given how hard these loyal animals work on a daily basis to protect not only the public but also their handlers from harm
In order to promote this campaign and to show that the support is wide spread across Scotland and the rest of the UK, I have started a petition at https://www.change.org/p/the-scottish-parliament-protect-police-dogsto persuade the Scottish Government to act quickly to introduce this new law. As at time of writing, 5 days after launch, we are sitting at 17,000 signatures!
I firmly believe that this is the right thing for us to do for our service animals and their handlers and I will continue to campaign in order to highlight this issue and I would ask for everyone reading this to please sign the petition, share it and ask for your friends and family to do the same.
Together we can send the message to the Scottish Government that we want our service animals to be protected by law as is only fair and right!