Family in appeal to save Police dog from destruction
A POLICE dog is facing destruction as part of a Welsh police authority’s ‘policy’, simply because the decision has been taken not to renew the dog’s operating licence, it was claimed this week.
‘Saxon’ is a 5 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 9 years. He is a Home Office approved police dog instructor.
When off duty Saxon lives at PC Townley’s home and is looked after by the whole family, including his daughter Joy who takes him for walks and always plays with him. Saxon lives both in his kennel and inside the house where his favourite place is on the sofa next to his handler.
However, for the past 3 months Saxon has been housed at the police kennels at Glascoed where he has been looked after by the other police dog handlers whilst PC Townley has been away on other duties.
Just a few weeks ago PC Townley, 47, was informed that Saxon was not to be re-licensed as police dog and senior officers were to make a decision as to his future. It has since been ordered that Saxon has been classified as a ‘dangerous’ dog and, as such, is unsuitable for re-homing and will be put to sleep.
As a serving police officer, Mike Townley is not allowed to speak to the media without the approval of his superiors, but his wife, Caroline spoke exclusively to OUR DOGS earlier this week regarding the whole situation.
Mrs Townley, 43, said: ‘Saxon has been my husband's partner, soulmate, trusted friend and loyal companion during his service and on many occasions my husband has been alone in very dangerous situations with only himself and Saxon to arrest serious and sometimes violent criminals.
‘Both my husband and Saxon have been commended for their team efforts they even had a personal letter from the chief constable on one occasion. The current situation seems to have come about largely on the say-so of one individual within the police dog section and is being passed off as the policy of Gwent police.’
Recently, one of PC Townley’s colleagues was placed in a similar situation when his dog, ‘Kye’, also aged 5 was due to be retired, as he was suffering from arthritis. He learned that the force were to recommend that Kye be destroyed, so his handler’s family wrote to the local newspapers, praising Kye as a heroic police dog who was due to retire after several year’s honourable service. No mention was made of the plans to destroy Kye although, faced with a potential PR disaster if they had proceeded with their plans, the police authority allowed Kye to live and rehomed him with his handler.
It is believed that the matter of Saxon’s destruction has been taken on the say so of Sergeant Richard Bull of the police dog section, and his recommendation has been accepted by the Inspector in charge of the dog section. Sgt Bull – who is currently on leave - is believed to have indicated that the issue is one of ‘safety around Saxon’. This refers to two incidents that took place during Saxon’s training over three years ago in 2003, when he bit PC Townley.
Caroline Townley explains: ‘Mike freely admits that it took him a while to ‘work Saxon out’ when they were first in training, because Saxon was obviously a highly intelligent dog and took a lot of work. It is true that he bit Mike twice, but Mike admitted then – as he admits now – that this was purely his own fault when he admonished Saxon and physically pushed him into his kennel, causing the dog to bite in defence – as he had been taught to. However, after that incident - which was logged at the time - something ‘clicked’ between them and they bonded perfectly, going from strength to strength.
‘In fact, Mike says that Saxon instinctively knows what he is thinking and they move as one – he is the perfect partner.’
Saxon apparently fails to reach the required Home Office standard for police work in just one respect – namely that if a dog seizes a suspect in a stand-off situation, it must ‘give up’ and let go of the suspect when ordered to my its handler.
‘Mike says that Saxon is ‘sleeve happy’,’ says Caroline. ‘When they are training with the bite sleeve, Saxon will continue to hold onto the sleeve even after he has been told to let go – although he will give up if told again. This has been worked into the reasons for Saxon being earmarked for destruction. The official reason that’s been give for this decision is that Saxon ‘bit his handler’, but that was in training three years ago! Just a few months back, the Chief Constable went on night patrol with the dog handlers, and Mike and Saxon were assigned to him. If there were any concerns about Saxon’s behaviour or people being safe around him, why was the Chief Constable partnered with them? In fact, the Chief Constable sent a letter of commendation about them both.’
PC Townley appealed against the decision and stated his case, making representations on Saxon’s behalf, offering him a retirement home with his family for the rest of his life. He would seek no reimbursement for the costs of caring for Saxon from the police authority. Thus far, his appeal has fallen on deaf ears.
‘We were as a family more than happy for this to happen, Saxon is not a danger, as anyone who knows him or has looked after him will testify,’ adds Caroline. ‘We were and are prepared to sign any agreement as to liability issues with regards to him. But my husband was informed that Saxon is to be destroyed and the reason given as it being 'the responsible thing to do'.’
Caroline launched an e-mail appeal to save Saxon’s life, which was circulated on the Internet over the past week. It was taken up by Mike Payne of Videx GSDs, who was able to offer constructive help and advice in having Saxon’s temperament independently verified. Mr Payne contacted Sheila Rankin of GSD Welfare who in turn contacted Gwent police authority and made arrangements for an independent assessment of Saxon’s character and his current predicament, under the force’s Animal Welfare Visitor’s Scheme.
The assessment was conducted at Gwent police dog kennels by three lay visitors on Monday of this week (see box). The visitors concluded that Saxon was ‘chilled out in his kennel’ and that he was receiving regular exercise and was being well looked after by staff. A meeting would be arranged to discuss the dog’s future.
Meanwhile, Gwent police issued a statement on their ‘policy’ regarding retired police dogs. The statement reads:
‘All police dogs are regularly assessed and licensed with regard to their effectiveness as working dogs, also to ensure that they are able to work safely with handlers, and do not present a danger to the public. This happens throughout a police dog’s working life.
‘Should the decision be made to retire a dog or to withdraw its license, the dog’s future is always considered very carefully. Every effort is made to ensure that the dog has a happy and healthy retirement, whether with its force handler or in a new home.
‘Sometimes a police dog may be humanely put down due to ill-health or injury, this always done in consultation with a vet, to prevent suffering, and only as a last resort.
‘Very occasionally a force may have to consider what to do if a dog can no longer be granted a license on grounds of safety. In this case several options may be considered including appropriate re-homing. Destruction is only considered if a force believes that the dog in question cannot be re-homed, re-deployed or retrained successfully and therefore presents an unacceptable safety risk to the public.
‘‘Saxon’ has been denied a license on the grounds that he is unsafe to work with, and his future is currently under consideration.
‘In the past three years eleven general purpose patrol dogs have been retired from the Gwent Police Dog Section. Of these six either went to live with their ex-handler or were otherwise re-homed. Five were put down humanely to prevent suffering as a result of old age, injury or underlying medical conditions, after consultation with a vet.
‘During the same period there has only been one case of a dog being refused a license on grounds of safety. The dog concerned made an unprovoked attack on a kennel handler and after careful consideration it was decided that the dog should be humanely put down.’
Other police authorities operate their own policies with regard to retired police dogs and most seem happy for the dogs to retire as pets, usually with their former handlers. However, Gwent’s position on Saxon is all the more ironic, given a statement that appears on Gwent Police Authority’s website, under the heading of ‘animal welfare’ and makes reference to the infamous case some years ago of ‘Acer’, the Essex police dog that died as a result of treatment by a sergeant police dog trainer. Acer’s death led to a sharp decline in the number of dogs – especially GSDs - being donated for police work.
Given that there are now reports of a lack of GSDs and other dogs of suitable character and strength to undertake police work in the UK, leading to police dogs being imported from overseas, Gwent police’s treatment of Saxon, a loyal, hard working police dog whose only ‘crime’ seems to be that he is too good at his job, i.e. catching criminals, seems at best misguided and at worse bizarre, especially at a time when crime is at an all-time high and the public are demanding better protection from criminals by the police..
Caroline Townley adds: ‘My husband is distraught and extremely upset this dog has meant so much to him over the years however as a serving officer cannot do anything about it due to the restrictions imposed on him by the service! He has no voice, but I and my family do, as do thousands of other dog lovers and right-minded people around the country and indeed around the world. We have been overwhelmed by the level of support we have received, with literally hundreds of e-mails supporting us in our fight to save Saxon. We are so grateful to everyone who has registered their views to the police authority.
‘We won’t give up the fight until Saxon’s life is saved.’
• To register your opposition to the killing of Saxon please e-mail Gwent Police Authority at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lay Visitors’ report on Saxon
Kennel report for the Gwent Police Authority animal welfare scheme 24th July 2006
The purpose of the visit was to see, discuss & put in place recommendations for Saxon, the German Shepherd dog, 5yrs of age. Visit started at 09.30 a.m
Saxon was chilled out in his kennel at the time of our visit but we were assured that he has regular walks with the handlers; he also has a large kennel & run all spotlessly clean & also access to a large compound for exercise, he is in good condition & very well looked after by the staff.
The subject of Saxon being put down was asked & we were told that no decision had been made with regards to this. We have asked for an independent assessment of the dog by a qualified person other than Police personnel & were granted that. When this is done we then want a meeting of all involved to discuss the dog’s future. The visitors were happy at the outcome today & look forward in correct decisions in the future.
This visit was attended by, Mr E.Crouch, Mr D.Bayliss, Mr L.Morgan Visit finished at 11.30 a.m