Finn’s Law – Calling for justice for police animals

Dogs have been used for law enforcement since at least the Middle Ages.

These days, canines undertake common duties such as sniffing out drugs and explosives, searching for lost people, looking for crime scene evidence, protecting their handlers and generally deterring criminals.                    

On October 5 last year when Police Dog Finn woke up and reported for duty, he had no idea he might not make it home by dinner time. 

Seven-year-old Finn’s primary job with Hertfordshire Police is to protect his dedicated handler and friend PC Dave Wardell, who have known each other since Finn was nine months old. But on that day, during a criminal pursuit, the German Shepherd was stabbed in the head and chest in the line of duty. Finn almost didn’t make it.

"Finn was stabbed trying to protect me," PC Wardell said. "He got it first."

A suspect was subsequently charged with criminal damage in relation to the attack on Finn. And this is what I’d like to bring to your attention – Finn is currently classed as ‘property’ under UK law. Causing criminal damage to a dog like Finn is equated with causing criminal damage to a police car or defacing a police sign. How can this be right when Finn is a living, breathing, sentient being who risked his life to protect his handler?

It’s currently the same for police horses too. Property, not protectors.

Police dog Finn with his handler PC Wardell

After the attack on Finn a petition was set up on the UK Government's petition site, proposing that police animals "be given protection that reflects their status if assaulted in the line of duty". According to recent figures, there are 1,753 police dogs in the UK.

More than 123,000 people signed the petition, resulting in a debate in Parliament about ‘Finn’s Law’ in November. The Government response suggested that, theoretically, horrific attacks like this can lead to sentences of up to 10 years in prison, but the fact is, this is currently very unlikely.

At IFAW, we are committed to improving the lives of dogs and other animals in the UK and around the world – and this includes ensuring that the animals who protect us get protection in turn from the law. In the spirit of the ‘Finn’s Law’ campaign, IFAW wants to see far stronger deterrents against cruel attacks and is calling on the Government to legally recognise the vital and brave role these animals perform by using all available mechanisms to ensure the severest possible penalties are consistently delivered to those found guilty of causing harm or death to a police animal.

A similar campaign changed the law on guide dogs after a spate of attacks. Guide dogs also used to be classed as the ‘property’ of a blind person – but an attack on a guide dog is also an attack on their handler. In March 2014 the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act was passed, making an attack on an assistance dog an aggravated offence with penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment. We want the same to apply to police dogs and horses who are doing their duty – anyone who intentionally harms these animals should face a tougher penalty.

Please support the campaign to protect animals like Finn! Write to your MP about changing the law for police support animals here.

--VA

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