Written by Davina Evans
Imagine you work for the Police. You're expected to put your life on the line on a daily basis to keep the public safe by tackling criminals, some of whom armed with knives, guns, drug paraphernalia, etc... One day, you're out with your partner and you get a call about a robbery in progress. Upon confronting the robber, he tries to escape and when you apprehend him, he pulls a knife and stabs you in the chest. Despite the excruciating agony, upon seeing him try to attack your partner, you jump forward to protect him by taking down the robber again, but this time you get stabbed in the head. You are not expected to make it through the night but, against the odds, you slowly start making a recovery, and just a few months later you are back on duty, on the front line again.
The sentence for actual bodily harm, especially against a police officer, should be expected to carry a lengthy jail term, however, in your case, the perpetrator will only be given several months' imprisonment. This is because the type of crime he has been found guilty of is 'criminal damage to property'. You are not seen as equal to your partner, despite the same level of danger you are in, because you are not human - you are a serving police dog.
Bravery Of A Police Dog
This was the situation Finn found himself in when he was out with his partner and handler, PC Dave Wardell, on 5th October 2016 in Stevenage.
In pursuit of the 16-year-old robber, Finn grabbed him as he tried to climb over a fence. The robber then pulled out a 30cm (12") hunting knife and stabbed Finn in the chest (missing his heart by a centimetre). Despite his injury, Finn kept hold of the man. He then went to stab PC Wardell so Finn leapt forward to protect his handler, which resulted in Finn sustaining another injury as the knife sliced into his head.
(Image: Finn's scar after 4 hours of emergency surgery. www.finnslaw.com)
Whilst recuperating, news of Finn's bravery made the local media, then spread nationally, and, along with a stint on Britain's Got Talent, prompted the start of a campaign to change the current law and bring in proper, more robust protections for serving animals.
Change In Animal Welfare Act
Nearly 3 years later, in June 2019, new legislation - dubbed 'Finn's Law' - has come into force making it harder for anyone harming service animals to claim they were acting in self-defence. The Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Act is an amendment to the current Animal Welfare Act 2006 which now offers greater protection in Law for service animals working in England. This change in law applies to serving dogs and horses.
To me, this amendment is long overdue and should really have been enshrined in law from the moment the British Police started using dogs and horses as working service animals. It is outrageous that, before this point, there was no specific offence or penalty relating to causing harm or death to a police animal, considering that in the USA it is classed as a federal offence, and if found guilty, carries a penalty of up to 10 years' imprisonment.
Investment Costs For Police Dogs
As of November 2016, there were currently 1,900 police dogs in the UK (although that figure has been reduced due to police cutbacks) and these animals are an invaluable part of the Force, being able to carry out tasks that their human counterparts find it much more difficult to undertake, such as; search and rescue, detection, bringing down fleeing suspects, and even sweeping the House of Commons for bombs.
Aside from the moral issue, each police dog comes with a financial investment of approximately £70,000 (£20,000 for initial training and £50,000 lifetime costs for things like vets' bills, food and board). The initial cost of recruiting and training a human police officer is approximately £12,900. What is the point in investing so heavily in an asset that is deemed to have such little value in the eyes of the Law?.
Justice for Police Animals
With such an important role in keeping our communities safe, these animals deserve to be afforded the best possible protections under the Law - not being treated with the same level of importance as a broken window. Unfortunately, Finn's injuries are one of many hundreds sustained by police dogs and horses every year in the UK, and many more were not even reported due to the lack of consequences.
The only problem I can foresee in bringing perpetrators to justice would be the level of obvious injury that would need to be sustained to the animal to be classed as sufficient evidence - bruising will not be visible under fur, and the animal is not able to give evidence itself. So, unless the incident is caught on an officer's body cam or a veterinarian can verify that an injury was sustained directly as a result of the alleged action, offenders may still get away with this crime. That being said, this is still an important step forward in protecting the brave and highly trained dogs and horses that put their lives on the line every day to protect us.
Finn retired from the Force in March 2019 and has been adopted by his handler, PC Wardell (who is still a serving officer). He won the Daily Mail Animal Hero Of The Year Award in 2017, and his book, Fabulous Finn, is available at Amazon here.
Finn's story and journey can also be found at www.finnslaw.com
Written by Davina Evans for Store Paws. All facts are correct at time of writing. Any views and opinions expressed are those of the author only.