It’s been a while, sorry. There is plenty to report, but I’m afraid my feelings of disappointment after the adjournment of the court case having built myself up and prepared myself for it kind of took over for a while. Then I’d figured that everyone had moved on with their lives. So again, sorry.
Where did we leave off? Just after Christmas I think. Well, New year was fairly typical in our house. One of us was home with the children and one of us was at work until silly o’clock in the morning. It was me who was home and I allowed the girls to stay up to see the new year in, no easy feat for a 4, 7 and 10 year old…..let alone a 40 year old. My wife, Gemma, was at work until about 4am meaning we spent most of the morning of New Year’s Day creeping around the house whilst she tried to sleep. Again no easy feat for my girls. They aren’t known for their ability to be quiet.
Very quickly the day of the court case came around. I must admit that I was probably not the best person to be around during that week after new year. I think I was probably pretty quiet and grumpy at home. The guys at work could sense something was up and spent most of the week trying to make me laugh…..usually at my expense, but that’s what work colleagues are for, right? Police officers have a strange sense of humour too.
I turned up to court, I had to go back through my evidence and see the exhibits so that I was ready for the hearing. That of course put me right back in that garden at 2am on 5th October 2016! I have always felt for victims of crime at court. It is not a pleasant thing to relive what, for most, must be one of the worst days of their life. Yet here I was going through that too.
Thursday 5th January 2017 may go down as one of the most long and drawn out, frustrating, challenging and all round crappiest day of….2017, at least.
All the games possible were played and unfortunately we lost the last one of the day. All that means in real terms is that the case has been adjourned, but as courts are so busy these days the adjournment was for two months! I can’t tell you how disappointed I, everyone around us and those that support us were. There are more consequences to this adjournment than I am allowed to tell you. If I were allowed, I’m pretty sure you’d be furious.
The next hearing is in early March. No doubt the same rubbish will run through my head, the same sleepless nights, the same short fuse at home, the same stress levels etc. Oh well, as long as justice is served eh…..?
I’m sure we’ll get our day in court
As if the day of the case hadn’t been bad enough, sadly the day after the I heard that face, or at least the dog face, of the campaign, RPD (retired Police Dog) Bear had died. He had been allowed to be the face of the campaign as he was retired, as was his old handler Mark, and the police could no longer control either of them. Finn and I were not allowed to do what Bear and Mark did as police officers are not allowed to be actively involved in politics, not that the campaign is.
Mark and Bear, who had been teamed up together before retirement, went on lots of TV shows and news bulletins and really helped get this campaign off the ground and were both amazing. Bear will always be remembered for making one of the Good Morning Britain presenters jump by barking at them, for stealing some food off of the table on live TV and for jumping on the sofa on Sky News and making himself at home. It was their appearances one morning that shot the petition, that had been doing well anyway, way over the 100,000 target we had to get Finn’s Law debated in Parliament.
I was now knee deep in trainee dogs and older dogs that needed extra training at work. I love instructing…..especially when it’s all going well. One of the main differences between being a handler – which of course I am, and love to do – and being an instructor is that, when you are a handler you go home thinking/worrying about one dog. When you are an instructor you go home thinking/worrying about 6 or more dogs.
Of course there is more than just one being to think about when training new dog teams. Dog training would be simple if it was just about the dogs!
So, how is the campaign?
It seems to be going ok, I think. The Policing Minister promised to ask several departments to see what they could do to help. The first was the Sentencing Council. They reported back a couple of weeks ago. On the face of there work it appears good news. The best news is that, for the first time Police animals and service animals are actually mentioned in law! A crazy situation really as we’ve been using animals and their superior abilities for centuries, but it’s taken until 2017 for them to be mentioned in a piece of law. Beggars belief really, but it is a step in the right direction, but I hope that is all it is, a step and not the whole race….finished. Time will tell.
I said that on the face of it that it looks good. However, I’m told by lawyers that as a result the Sentencing Council have actually managed to reduce the possible sentences available for an attack on a police animal or service dog under the new part of the Animal Welfare act. A step backwards in any bodies books. Was this an oversight?
Just for clarity, the suspect in our case was not charged with this offence as Finn’s injuries were way beyond what this piece of legislation covers. This means that the charge of criminal damage is still all that is available in such serious cases – of which Finn’s is not the exception over the years. We still feel that criminal damage does not convey the amazing work these amazing animals do, the difference they make to people’s lives, the fact that they are intelligent beings that have feelings and that they should have better and bespoke protections in law than say a flower pot does.
IFAW, the International Fund for Animal Welfare have taken up the cause now, thank god. This great organisation have hundreds of thousands of followers and have great relationships with MPs and the government. What I like is that they also fight clean campaigns.
I had been hoping that the court case would be heard, and no matter what the result was that Finn and the campaign would be back in the headlines to just help give the politicians that last nudge they sometimes need to get things along. But, as we know that didn’t happen. That left me wondering – what possibly could little old me do, without upsetting my bosses, to keep this alive?
Literally the very next day IFAW made contact. Coincidence? An angle from above? Who knows, but I can assure you that I am very grateful. They say things happen for a reason, and someone pointed out to me recently that with Brexit taking up most of the oxygen in the world at the moment, maybe the court case not being heard just yet will allow some of that oxygen to return to politics in time for the next hearing. I hope so. Maybe then, just maybe the press will get back behind Finn’s story, and then maybe the politicians will get that nudge. Fingers crossed. Hopefully someone is looking out for this cause. It is overdue by just a couple of centuries.
Anyway, as a direct result of IFAWs involvement nearly 15,000 people contacted their MPs!!! Unbelievable and much more than I could have hoped for. I know 125,000 people signed the petition, but to then get 15,000 to contact their MPs was in my mind amazing. There are 650 MPs, even if that 15,000 were shared out evenly between those MPs that still means that each MP received 23 emails about this, keeping us in their minds….I hope.
Finn and I had been invited up to visit West Yorkshire police. West Yorks have been very supportive of Finn and our campaign right from the start. They had a refreshing approach to this. Something I had struggled to see locally. The day started early and involved a 3 hour drive through snow. But we were rewarded with a fantastic day meeting a great bunch of people. The day had been organised by Chief Inspector Aidy Waugh, himself once a dog handler.
We visited the dog section, the police helicopter and its staff, the canteen for fish and chips (lovely it was too, haha), the public order training centre, the shooting range and we finished our day with a visit to the Chief Constable, Dee Collins. Dee is a wonderful leader who says it like it is but is also very supportive.
Finn’s new job.
Finn making himself at home in the Chief Constables office.
Finn also made himself very at home in Chief Superintendent Pat Casserly’s office. Top boss. Very down to earth, I wouldn’t mess with him though. I like bosses like that.
It can be rare to find a senior officer that was a dog handler like Aidy Waugh. Dog handlers quite often stay dog handlers due to the fact that the job is so challenging and rewarding. This is something that doesn’t help our collective cause. I could take you round any senior officers floor of any headquarters and we would find ex traffic officers, ex firearms, plenty of ex neighbourhood, ex detectives and lots of ex response officers. But you’d struggle to find an ex dog handler. For me that leads to a lack of understanding of what we do, why we ask for what we ask for, and what is involved day to day. We always get funny remarks when we go to HQ about being covered in hair and mud. I can go weeks without seeing an office. The training venues we use are usually empty office blocks were electricity and water have been switched off – this often means that it’s warmer outside than it is inside. We often stand outside in all weathers. A winter course, like the one I am running currently, really builds character. It was minus 7 a couple of weeks ago, and we were struggling to feel our hands after just a few minutes. We still had a schedule of training to follow and we did it.
My job is 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. Not that I’m complaining, because I’m not. I love it!
Unless you do what we do, you don’t know! Until you’ve faced down, with just you and your dog, an offender or group of offenders with weapons who have gone to great efforts to escape, who are telling you that they want to kill you, or you are miles away from roads, civilisation or back up and you find that misper trying to kill themselves, or a senior officer sends you and your dog off into the never never at night to look for that depressed someone seen by relatives to walk off with a rope, or you turn up to that completely out of control public order with just you and your little dog and officers look to you two to sort it out because they are struggling – which we usually duly do.
Phew, glad I got that off of my chest! Nothing out there, currently maybe, can do what a highly motivated, highly trained dog team can do!
I’ll stop there.
Once we were done at West Yorks Police, we headed off to meet a retired dog handler and someone who has been behind the campaign since the very start, Mick Bland. You couldn’t wish to meet a kinder person who clearly remembers very fondly his time on West Yorkshire’s dog section. Finn came in to say hello too. I think it’s fair to say that Mick is a fan of Finn and that Finn left his mark on Mick. We had a lovely evening. Learning the lingo;
We returned home at about 11pm and I had to be up at about 4am to head to a Royal Canin sponsored police dog Seminar weekend in Shropshire – another 3 hour drive. It was great to meet up with other handlers and instructors and exchange ideas and learn new techniques. There were a few old acquaintances there too. So inevitably a few beers followed. It was nice to relax. But it was soon time to head home. I don’t mind admitting that having not had a day off over the weekend that I struggled following week.
The weeks over Christmas with Finn returning to work, New Year, the lead up to the court case and visiting West Yorks and the seminar were starting to take their toll. I was exhausted. But life goes on at work and home, no time to be ill. But tiredness can lead to mistakes. I’ll let the wife tell you about that one day. I really feel for her though. She had spent several weeks preparing our caravan for some Spring trips. I managed to undo all of that in about half an hour.
Hero-Diesel continues to develop nicely in school as does her brother Hector. I’m not sure what happened to their sisters Hope and Harper. But from what I saw I’m sure they are doing well.
My good friend, Sean Dilley, who happens to be blind, suggested we start to turn the blogs into an audio blog for those who struggle with reading for what ever reason. Sean also suggest that I be the one to read them. I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard your own voice, but for most, including me, it isn’t usually a pleasant experience. I begged Sean to do it as he talks for a living. He said it’d be better coming from me as it is my story. I tend to agree, but that doesn’t make it easier. He explained to me how to tell a story and how to keep the narration almost monotone. This may be a struggle when we get to some of the emotional bits. But if people continue to like it, we shall continue….once we find another day in the week to do it. Have a listen and tell me what you think;
That kind of neatly brings me to the question of a Book – should we write one? What would you like to see in it if we do? Would you buy it?
Just finally, a few things; we finally signed the forms for Guide Dog puppy Finn. This starts the process. I am waiting to hear back from them as to what happens next, whether there is a litter due soon etc.
My eldest and I spent the day here yesterday at the Essex County Championships. She is now the 4th fastest girl in her age group in the whole of Essex! Not bad for her first attempt.
Oh and I managed to get on the news again. This is where my daughter trains 7 times a week. It isn’t exactly local to us, but parking charges we ok. But the people that run the car park planned to put the yearly parking charges up from around £400 to nearly £2,000!!! I hope you’ll agree that is greedy and doesn’t exactly show a commitment to the much spoken about Olympic Legacy. Who can afford those prices just for parking? Where is the social inclusion in that decision?
Okay, enough for now. Thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts……