Page last updated at 17:13 GMT, Monday, 22 February 2010

Police seek redemption after dog deaths

Anthony Bartram
BBC News, Nottingham

Pc Mark Johnson and Jet in police magazine
Two police dogs died when Pc Mark Johnson left them in a locked car

When you see a German Shepherd dog chase down and tackle a criminal, there can be little doubt they are highly trained. But highly valued?

It is a question Nottinghamshire Police have had to address since an officer left two police dogs locked in car on a blisteringly hot day.

Pc Mark Johnson has been found guilty of causing unnecessary suffering to Jay-Jay and Jet who both died trapped in the vehicle outside the force headquarters.

The news caused outrage among animal lovers with condemnation coming from as far afield as New York and Mexico.

The incident has been investigated by the RSPCA and the practices within the dog section has been reviewed by Nottinghamshire Police.

In response to the hundreds of letters, which have demanded such a mistake never happens again, new air conditioned vehicles have been added to the fleet for handlers and their dogs.

Police say strict kennelling procedures have been brought in and people who ask will be allowed to see for themselves how the dogs are treated.

Police dog being trained
Only about one in 100 donated dogs are sent for front line work

And officers claimed the lessons learned from this summer's tragedy will now being shared with every dog section in the country.

Ch Supt Ak Khan said: "Our unit has a proud history of caring for its animals and we are devastated and hurt by what has happened.

"We are going to learn from those lessons and do whatever we can to make sure that sort of thing never happens again.

"But the important thing is that everybody understands that in hot weather we need to take care of our animals - and that includes us."

Officers from the 25-strong unit have felt the public backlash, but speak of their dogs as colleagues. The handlers literally take their work home to live with their families.

Some have said they spend more time with their canine colleagues than they do their partners and children.

Dog Section Sergeant, Kay Staples, summed up the feelings among her fellow officers: "It's a huge loss for us all, not just the officer and his family, but for every one of us here.

"You could not begin to think how he would possibly feel but we're aware of how we feel so that's probably only very small in comparison to him."

'No favours'

A few miles away Alison Clarke takes in unwanted German Shepherds at her home near Mansfield on behalf of the national charity, German Shepherd Rescue.

She said its members already had concerns for police dogs around the country at the time of the incident and had stopped offering theirs up as potential dog section recruits for about a year.

Dog training Sergeant, Steve O'Connell
An in-house breeding programme, on its fifth litter, has been a success

She said: "(The police) must realise now they have done themselves no favours, because I do believe these two dogs were gifted to the police force.

"I also think a lot of other rescue centres will now be thinking 'nobody's going to bequeath any dogs to the police after this'."

There is a national shortage of German Shepherds capable of working on the police front line and forces rely heavily on donated dogs.

Part of the long-term solution is a local breeding programme which is onto its fifth litter of seven puppies.

Dog training Sergeant Steve O'Connell explains: "We did some research which showed just one in almost a hundred gift dogs were actually successful in becoming a police dog and that costs quite a sum of money.

"The puppy scheme that we have at the moment is running at about a 50% success rate and obviously for the pups that aren't good enough we're fortunate enough to have a number of people who would purchase them anyway."

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