The long paw of the law: Medals for our officers’ pedigree chums
DOGS are not only man’s best friend – many are also a police officer’s most trusted partner in crime-fighting.
But among these four-legged heroes of law enforcement, who often risk their lives to protect human colleagues, a few stand out.
And now those who have shown exceptional service have been recognised in the inaugural Thin Blue Paw awards.
Organised by police dog welfare charity the Thin Blue Paw Foundation and supported by Animal Friends pet insurance, there are five categories for dogs including ‘top crime-fighting duo’ and ‘rising star’ – and one for officers, too.
Charity co-founder Kieran Stanbridge said: ‘There are approximately 1,500 police dogs working across the UK, and every day they put their lives on the line alongside their handlers to fight crime, save lives and keep the public safe.’
The winners, who are taking part in an award ceremony today at Knebworth House in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, are:
NALA AND PC SEAN FOSTER: Lifetime Achievement
Nala’s cool demeanour was vital during her seven years with Northamptonshire Police. In 2016 the German shepherd tracked down two suspects hiding under a caravan despite being struck in the face with a crowbar. A month before her retirement in May, she caught and held a man following a car chase despite him trying to choke her.
Nala, nine, started with street work in 2014 before joining the force’s firearms support team.
Her handler PC Foster said: ‘Tracking people – whether it was suspects on the run or missing people – was Nala’s forte. She always showed such dedication.’ She will spend her retirement at the home he shares with wife Paula and their children. He said: ‘You fall in love with your dog. She became a part of our family.’
Chief Constable Nick Adderley said: ‘Their contribution to the force has been immeasurable.’
BART AND PC KELLY WALKER: Top Crime-fighting Duo
Bart showed his dedication when he continued tracking a knifeman despite cutting his paw badly.
The dog, a Dutch herder, and handler PC Kelly Walker, were called to a domestic violence incident in North Wales in May when a man assaulted his partner and threatened an off-duty police officer with a large knife before taking his victim with him.
PC Walker, 37, said: ‘While he [Bart] was tracking he put his paw through a pane of glass and sliced his toe in half. But he carried on searching and protecting me. He wouldn’t give up, despite his injury, which just goes to show how tenacious he is.’ Bart, seven, and PC Walker are part of the Cheshire and North Wales Police Dog Unit and have been together since 2017. The officer, who is mother to Thomas, nine, and stepmother to Jayden, 19, said of Bart: ‘He’s so loyal, determined and fearless.’
STARK AND PC PAUL HOPLEY: Outstanding Bravery
Stark, four, was slashed with a machete more than 20 times but refused to let go of the suspect. The rookie police dog with the West Midlands force needed stitches for gashes to his face but was back at work within a month.
The dog and handler PC Paul Hopley had been called to an allotment in Handsworth, Birmingham, in December following reports of suspicious activity.
Stark, a Belgian malinois and German shepherd cross, found someone lurking in the dark and gave chase. PC Hopley, 49, said the suspect ‘was raining blows’, adding: ‘He hit him well over 20 times. I thought he was going to kill him.
‘He didn’t yelp, he didn’t run back to me for protection. He was a young, inexperienced dog but he stayed on task.’
A teenager was later given a detention and training order for possessing a bladed weapon and causing unnecessary suffering to a service animal.