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Brave crimefighting police dog heroes honoured in inaugural national awards

The nation’s bravest police dogs and officers have been hailed heroes at a glittering awards ceremony.

The Thin Blue Paw Awards – supported by Animal Friends Insurance – were held last night (Tuesday 14th September 2021) at Knebworth House where six police dogs and handlers were honoured for their bravery, life-saving actions and crime-fighting dedication.

The event, hosted by BBC News presenter Rich Preston, saw 140 people and nine dogs come together to celebrate the difference that police dogs and their handlers make every day.

Host Rich said: “Police dogs are the near-perfect colleague; they don’t complain about going to work, they enjoy their job, and officers up and down the country trust them with their lives every day. And at the end of a long shift, they’re still a friend their handler is happy to take home and have as part of the family.

“They’ll often put themselves in harm’s way to catch a violent offender, track down a vulnerable missing person, or sniff-out drugs or weapons which would otherwise end up on the street. It’s only right we celebrate the incredible skills, successes, and service of these remarkable animals.

“I’m very excited to be involved in these awards, and to spend the evening in such exceptional four-legged company. A huge thank you to the Thin Blue Paw Foundation for inviting me and for the invaluable work they do.”

On the night, six awards were handed out to dogs, handlers and partnerships:

Outstanding bravery: PD Stark and PC Paul Hopley

West Midlands Police duo PD Stark and PC Paul Hopley, from Staffordshire, leapt into action when they were called to allotments to reports of attempted break-ins in the early hours on 14 December 2020. Stark set off to find the offender and soon located a man, giving chase. But the suspect turned on Stark and struck him repeatedly around the head with a machete. As PC Hopley discharged his incapacitant spray, allowing Stark to detain him and drag him away from the dropped knife. Stark was covered in blood and had suffered a number of lacerations to his face. He needed emergency veterinary treatment, stitches and four weeks off work before bravely returning to duty.

Lifesaver: PD Calli and PC Megan West

This Kent Police pair responded to an emergency call in June 2021 from a man in crisis saying he was going to commit suicide. He’d given a few clues as to his whereabouts and PD Callie and PC Megan West were deployed in an attempt to find him. In just 10 minutes, Calli had managed to pick up and follow a scent just as PC West saw the man jump from a tree with a rope around his neck. They were able to cut him free and commence emergency first aid while requesting support from paramedics. He made a full recovery and has since been able to seek the help he needed.

Crime fighting duo: PD Bart and PC Kelly Walker

PD Bart and PC Kelly Walker have been working together on behalf of Cheshire Police and North Wales Police for four years. The duo work across a huge area to support all units and assist with firearms support, high-risk missing persons, and tracking from scenes of crime, as well as supporting new handlers into the team. PC Walker has helped to design a new body armour for general purpose dogs, with Bart trialling the design, and the pair are helping to keep police dogs across the nation safe.

Rising star: PD Elvis and PC Colin Nash

Two-year-old Labrador PD Elvis was licensed as a passive and proactive drug detection dog with City of London Police in March 2020 and has gone from strength-to-strength since. His nose has helped to take numerous knives off the streets and identified victims being used for county lines drugs. But his nose has also got him into some trouble; like devouring someone’s Nando’s takeaway, leaving handler, PC Colin Nash from Suffolk, red-faced!

Lifetime achievement: PD Nala and PC Sean Foster

Northamptonshire Police officer Sean Foster and his dog, Nala, were licensed in February 2014 and went on to have an incredible career. In 2016 while responding to reports of an aggravated burglary, Nala was struck around the face with a crowbar but, despite her injuries, tracked two missing suspects who were hiding under a caravan. Two years later, Nala helped track two suspects who had fled from a vehicle stop and search and, in 2020, she went after burglars who’d escaped through a residential estate. Despite the area being cleared by the police helicopter, Nala spent two hours searching gardens and found a suspect hiding. Just before her retirement, in April 2021, she caught and held a man as he attempted to flee following a car chase despite him trying to choke her.

Special recognition: PC Darren Sewell

Leicestershire Police officer Darren Sewell has been a frontline officer for 22 years, a dog handler and firearms support handler for 16 years, and a trainer for four years. He has been an incredible ambassador for police dogs and his life revolves around the dogs and their welfare. He cares for PD Jura and PD Gilly, as well as helping run on puppies for neighbouring forces. In 2020, he was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma (cancer) and underwent chemotherapy treatment while continuing to care for his pack, train and run on Jura, and prepare for their return to duty.

‘Celebrating our unsung canine heroes’

It was the inaugural event for the Thin Blue Paw Foundation, a national dog welfare charity that celebrates and supports working and retired police and prison dogs, as well as championing and campaigning for improved welfare for service dogs.

Charity co-founder and trustee, Kieran Stanbridge, said: “There are approximately 1,500 serving police dogs working across the UK and, every day, they put their lives on the line alongside their handlers to help fight crime, save lives and keep the public safe.

“As a charity, we want to support these dogs to live long and happy lives when they retire; but we also want to acknowledge, recognise and celebrate the dogs, police dog handlers, and duos who have made a real difference in their communities.”

Surrey and Sussex Police dog handler PC Claire Bird and PD Eva were awarded a highly commended certificate in the Lifesaver category; Derbyshire Police officer PC Andy Bailey and his two dogs - PD Tilley and PD Riley – were named runner-up in the Crimefighting Duo (or trio!) category; and Nottinghamshire Police dog Quantum – handled by PC Jennie Ellse – was honoured with highly commended in the Outstanding Bravery category.

Animal Friends Insurance, which supports the Thin Blue Paw Foundation in its work, sponsored the event. Chief Executive Westley Pearson said: “Animal Friends Insurance is incredibly proud to support these awards recognising the astonishing bravery of Britain’s police dogs. Judging the awards was extremely difficult as all the nominees are real superheroes, saving lives, catching criminals and protecting our streets day in day out but the award winners are true exemplars of dedication, valour and gallantry.

“It has been an honour for Animal Friends to support Thin Blue Paw Foundation in their first year and see first-hand the extraordinary impact they are making for serving and retired police dogs across the UK. The animals they help have given everything to courageously protect our communities and keep us safe and it’s a privilege to be able to give something back to them; a dignified and happy retirement.”

Find out more about the Thin Blue Paw Foundation and the awards – also supported by the charity’s official dog food partner, Barking Head – at www.thinbluepaw.org.uk/awards.

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