BY RUPERT MATTHEWS
Working dogs have been a part of the English countryside for longer than England itself has existed. The less said about the old Celtic battle dogs the better, but herding dogs and hunting dogs are familiar figures as they trot across the English countryside with their humans. Indeed, many of our most popular pet breeds were originally bred for rural work.
Leaving aside the modern aberration of the cockapoo, British households have put Labrador Retrievers, Springer Spaniels and German Shepherds into the third, fourth and sixth position for most popular breeds. Working breeds all of them.
But these are not just pets with a working heritage. They are still working breeds – not less when working alongside our front-line police officers. And leading the pack is Jazz, a springer spaniel who works with the Leicestershire Police and provides a clear example of such a canine counterpart.
Jazz helped the police in Market Harborough just recently when they carried out one of the most successful drugs busts in Leicestershire’s history. The August raid uncovered a large amount of class-A drugs alongside a substantial quantity of cash. Much as I admire the police officers concerned, none of it would have been possible without police sniffer dog, Jazz.
Jazz’s skill was the combination of her powerful nose – containing 220 million scent receptors, 44 times the number of receptors in our own human nose – and the vital training she has been given by the Leicestershire dog section. That has resulted in the Leicestershire Police being able to remove so many of the available drugs on our streets.
But if you think that drugs are an issue for cities – or even for market towns such as Market Harborough – then think again. I recently went to Redmile, as pretty a little village in the Vale of Belvoir as you could hope to visit. But it was here that an international gang rented a house and used it as the distribution centre for the cocaine trade across three counties.
The police tasked with seizing drugs and fighting the drug gangs should be supported in every way possible. They need to be encouraged to try out innovative new tactics. And our working dogs, such as Jazz, are key in many of these.
Which is, sadly, why the criminal gangs don’t like them very much. I am aware of one particularly successful sniffer dog at Heathrow which had a contract put out on its life by a drug smuggling gang. Things in Leicestershire and Rutland are not that bad, but our dogs can still have a hard time.
Police dog Tammy was called with her handler, PC Sam Bennett, to a domestic incident in Leicestershire a few weeks ago. Tammy was promptly attacked, though thankfully not seriously injured. When the miscreant appeared at Leicester Magistrates’ Court, he pleaded guilty to the offence of ‘causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal’.
This charge was possible because of the new “Finn’s Law”, which came into being in June 2019 after an horrific incident. When police dog Finn leapt to the defence of his handler PC Dave Wardell, he was stabbed in the head and chest with a 12-inch combat knife sustaining injuries requiring emergency surgery. Through the incredible work of the vets, Finn survived the ordeal and miraculously returned to work.
The youth who stabbed Finn was later charged with criminal damage for the injuries to Finn. But Finn’s handler PC Wardell headed a campaign against this charge stating that Finn should not be treated like a ‘smashed window’ or ‘broken plant-pot’ but rather his own sentient being. Wardell’s campaign changed the law to recognize the vital role police dogs and horses play in policing and to increase the punishment to those that harm them.
Quite right too. All of us dog owners can empathise with that.
As you may know from earlier columns that I have written for County Squire, I am the Conservative candidate to be Police and Crime Commissioner for this area. In my view all those who assault our police should be prosecuted. And an assault on the Queen’s Uniform should be treated as an aggravating factor when it comes to sentencing. The same goes for attacks on police dogs. Purposefully harming police dogs or horses on duty is a callous and despicable act. It demonstrates a lack of humanity in a way that other crimes do not.
Of course, for dog owners like me it comes as no surprise that our police dogs display such devotion to duty and tenacity in carrying out their tasks. And for rural folks who themselves have working dogs that help them in their work, it comes as even less of a surprise.
The Leicestershire Police dog unit has continuously dedicated itself to the fight against drugs and with every drug seizure they make, the more disruption is caused to the crime network in our locality. They deserve our praise and our support. And I for one will give it gladly.
Rupert Matthews is the Conservative Party’s candidate to be Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicestershire and Rutland.