Up until now in the U.S., causing harm to a police dog or horse was seen as just “inflicting suffering on an animal”, as it is with other pets. And yes, it’s good that we had at least that – there are plenty of countries where even that isn’t the case. Yet, there was a case to be made that police animals are as much our protectors and keepers of the peace, as are their handlers.
A recent bill makes it a specific offense to cause suffering to an animal that’s under the control of a police officer.
Police dogs, prison dogs, and police horses are to be protected by law, eliminating a loophole in the existing legislation.
The animal welfare (service animals) bill, introduced by Conservative MP Sir Oliver Heald, was due to have its second reading on Friday. It has received backing from the environment secretary, Michael Gove, who said it is to “offer stronger protection for the many brave service animals that help to protect us”.
The bill amends the 2006 Animal Welfare Act by specifying animals “under the control of a relevant officer”. Another important change is that it also removes a current provision that allowed people to plead self-defense after hurting a police animal.
There have been many cases of police animals being hurt on duty with no consequences. Howeverone case of 2016 is cited as the ground for the bill. It’s the case of a police dog called Finn. Finn was stabbed by a robbery suspect in 2016.
Finn and his handler, police officer Dave Wardell were tracking the suspect when Finn got stabbed in the chest. Even after the stabbing and a head injury, Finn still continued to fight and protected Wardell from being stabbed as well. Finn continued to keep the suspect pinned until reinforcements arrived.
Fortunately, Finn survived, but not without the help of a 4-hour surgery.
However, the man was only found guilty of the robbery and a bodily harm against officer Wardell. The serious bodily harm he had caused Finn was deemed as just “criminal damage”. This is no different to what you may judge if a robber breaks your window.
Wardell said he is happy with the new bill. He believes it will provide additional protection for brave service dogs like Finn. “When Finn was seriously injured it didn’t seem right to me or the public that he was seen as an inanimate object or property, in law,” he said.
Heald stated he is delighted the bill is getting support: “This is a good day for all of our brave service animals.”