A POLICE dog who faced destruction after a decision by Gwent police authority not to renew the dog’s operating license has been reprieved following an in-depth assessment by an independent dog behaviourist.
As reported previously, Saxon is a five-year-old German Shepherd who has been partnered with handler PC Mike Townley of Gwent police for the past three years and has proved exemplary in his duties. PC Townley has been a police officer for 18 years and has worked as a dog handler for nine years, being a Home Office approved police dog instructor.
Earlier this year, PC Townley was informed that Saxon was not to be re-licensed as a police dog and senior officers were to make a decision as to his future. Saxon was shortly afterwards classified as a ‘dangerous’ dog and, as such, unsuitable for re-homing and was due to be put to sleep. Since then, Saxon has been housed at the police kennels at Glascoed whilst PC Townley was assigned to other duties. However, PC Townley has been on sick leave for some months due to the stress of the situation surrounding Saxon’s fate.
A campaign to save Saxon’s life was launched by Mike Townley’s wife Caroline and was taken up by GSD breeder David Payne (Videx GSDs) who gave a great deal of publicity to the campaign via his website. Gwent police authority was inundated with e-mails and messages from dog lovers around the world, many of whom offered to buy Saxon and give him a safe home.
The official announcement that Saxon had been spared came late on Monday afternoon this week when Gwent Police Authority issued a formal statement, together with a copy of the assessment carried out on the dog by Assessor Charles Wall of A1 K9 training company, based in Swansea.
Mr Wall, a member of the British Institute of Professional Dog Trainers donated his fee for conducting Saxon’ assessment to Macmillan Cancer Support, so as not to be seen to making any financial gain from the assessment. Mr Wall concluded that although Saxon was unsuitable as a police dog and as an ordinary family pet, he should continue to be a working dog, perhaps ideally employed as a guard dog.
Gwent Police Authority accepted Mr Wall’s criticism of the situation into which Saxon had been placed and stated that these matters would "be addressed". Saxon is now to be relocated to a "suitable working environment."
Following the statement that Saxon would be relocated, Caroline Townley wrote to senior management at Gwent Police Authority to request that her husband be allowed to visit Saxon and say goodbye to him, before he embarked on his new career.
Gwent Police released the official: ‘The future of Saxon the police dog has been decided, following the latest and final assessment obtained by Gwent Police. The objective of the assessment was to gain an informed understanding of the dog and his behaviour, and to receive recommendations regarding all viable options for his future from an independent source.
‘Gwent Police has been working closely with Gwent Police Authority’s Animal Welfare Committee, and although a number of assessments had been carried out in the past, the Force accepted the Committee’s recommendation that this further, fuller assessment was necessary .
‘The importance of the duration of the assessment was emphasised by the Animal Welfare Committee, as, in order to receive a fair assessment on his normal behaviour, Saxon needed to be in an environment where trust had been built with a handler. It was felt that a four-week period would be sufficient for such a trust to be built.’
Chair of the Gwent Police Authority's Animal Welfare Committee- Councillor John Williams said:
‘It is our view that Gwent Police have acted very responsibly towards Saxon in agreeing to this final assessment, despite the fact they have been heavily criticised for doing so. They have a duty of care to Saxon, (which senior management have acknowledged to us) and they also have a duty of care to ensure that they do not compromise anyone’s safety if he is re-homed. The two can be mutually achievable but to do so the risks (if any) have to be clearly identified, and managed accordingly’.
Gwent Police has accepted fully the findings of this latest report and can confirm that as a result, Saxon will not be put to sleep, but will be re-homed. Although the Force will not seek to renew Saxon’s licence as a general-purpose police dog, he will continue to serve as a working dog.
Saxon will be placed into an environment outside of Gwent Police - working only with an experienced handler.
The assessment report categorically states that Saxon should not be placed in a ‘pet environment’, effectively ruling out a domestic placement with his ex-handler.
The next stage will be to identify a suitable working environment for Saxon that meets the criteria laid out in the assessment.
Gwent Police has also noted and accepted the report’s criticism of some of the Forces arrangements with regard to dog training and plans have already been instigated to address these matters. These plans include utilising best practice from within the police service in order to improve our processes, and also working with an experienced assessor to bring industry leading external practice into the Force.
Gwent Police and the Animal Welfare Committee acknowledge that this decision has come at the end of a long process, and also appreciate the concern that the public has shown towards Saxon.
We are satisfied that the time taken has been justified to achieve what we are confident is the correct outcome for Saxon.
* A full report of Saxon’s story will appear in a subsequent issue of OUR DOGS.