The U.K Expanding Legal Protections for Police Animals Injured On Duty

By Megan Edwards

While in pursuit of a robbery suspect in East Hertfordshire, U.K. in October of 2016, Police Constable Dave Wardell and his police dog Finn were attacked with a knife, resulting in injuries to both PC Wardwell and Finn.[1]Finn was stabbed in the chest and in the head, but despite these injuries, he protected PC Wardell from the attacker.[2]After the ordeal, having both protected PC Wardwell and latched onto the suspect until additional police arrived, Finn underwent four hours of surgery to address his injuries.[3]It took him eleven weeks to recover.[4]

The suspect was charged with actual bodily harm against PC Wardwell, but the court decided that no additional penalty for the attack on Finn would be appropriate.[5]One of the only options to recover for damage done to animals in the police force in England is to prosecute for “causing criminal damage.”[6]Under this law, a police dog such as Finn would be indistinguishable from broken equipment.[7]This incident sparked a campaign called “Finn’s Law,” which had the goal of expanding the protections for police animals.[8]This movement gained popularity as Finn’s story became known, garnering thousands of supporters.

The Finn’s Law campaign argued that police dogs and horses should be, “… given the same legal protection as human police officers.”[9]Over 100,000 people signed the campaign, allowing this issue to be discussed in parliament.[10]As a result of the campaigning, in March of 2017, new animal cruelty sentencing guidelines were introduced which can be utilized in the event that a police animal is injured in the line of duty; however, the effect of these guidelines may be limited, as these revisions only provide that “animals being used in a public service” can constitute an aggravating factor with regards to the proper sentence.[11]

As the issue of the lack of remedies for injured service animals became more well known, Minister Sir Oliver Heald introduced the Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill.[12]This bill would amend the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, making it an offense to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal “under the control of a relevant officer, is being used by the officer in the course of the officers duty, and the when officer is not the defendant.”[13]This Bill originated in the House of Commons, and has been committed to a Public Bill Committee, which will meet on a date next year.[14]The Bill must pass through both the House of Commons (first reading, second reading, committee stage, report stage, third reading) and the House of Lords (same procedures), and amendments must be considered before Royal Assent can occur, where the Monarch agrees to make the Bill into an Act.[15]

Finn has fully recovered from his injuries, and has retired from police work.[16]

[1]Police dog stabbing: MP Oliver Heald airs Finn’s Law in Parliament, BBC News, (Dec. 5, 2017), https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-42237411[hereinafter BBC]; Peter Walker, Police and service dogs and horses receive protection by law, The Guardian, (Jun. 14, 2018 7:01 PM EDT), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/15/police-service-dogs-horses-animal-welfare-service-animals-bill.

[2]Id.

[3]Id.

[4]Finn Facts, Finn’s Law, https://www.finnslaw.com/finn-facts/(last visited Sep. 8, 2018).

[5]Id.

[6]BBC, supranote 1.

[7]Finn Facts, supranote 4.

[8]Id.

[9]Lauren K. Harris, Dog Theft: A Case for Tougher Sentencing Legislation, MDPI Animals(May 22, 2018), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5981289/.

[10]Id.

[11]Id.

[12]Peter Walker, Police and service dogs and horses receive protection by law, The Guardian, (Jun. 14, 2018 7:01 PM EDT), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/15/police-service-dogs-horses-animal-welfare-service-animals-bill.

[13]Id.; Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill 2017-19, HC Bill [225] cl. 1 (Eng.), https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2017-2019/0225/18225.pdf.

[14]Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill 2017-19, Parliament,https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/animalwelfareserviceanimals.html(last visited Sep. 8, 2018).

[15]Passage of a Bill, Parliament, https://www.parliament.uk/about/how/laws/passage-bill/(last visited Sep. 8, 2018); Royal Assent, Parliament, https://www.parliament.uk/about/how/laws/passage-bill/commons/coms-royal-assent/(last visited Sep. 8, 2018).

[16]Finn Facts, Finn’s Law, https://www.finnslaw.com/finn-facts/(last visited Sep. 8, 2018).

6 comments

  1. Police animals are an integral part of law enforcement. I am curious whether this ruling will eventually influence policies in the U.S. Does the U.S. have many, or any, protections for police animals?

  2. The U.K.’s expansion of legal protection for police animals is a very interesting story, specifically because its efforts started as a grass-roots campaign that gained traction fairly quickly. The incident occurred in October 2016 and the bill was introduced just a little under a year later in March of 2017. This speaks volumes to the benefit of citizen-involvement to place an imperative issue on the political agenda.

  3. Interesting concept. Do you think that this would lead to an increased deterrent and that individuals would exercise caution in order to avoid a larger penalty? A good initiative to protect animals that help police officers.

  4. There is an interesting contrast between the protection of service animals to the protection of endangered species. There are criminal punishments for hunting and killing endangered or threatened species across the world, especially in tourism heavy countries like the United States, Tanzania, and Galapagos. Yet, there are minimal criminal punishment for assault on a domestic pet or worse, a working dog like Finn. It seems like the criminal system needs to bridge this gap.

  5. I really enjoyed this piece. In the future, I hope the United States will take similar actions to protect the lives of animals serving as law enforcement officers. I am also happy to see that Finn recovered and retired.

  6. It’s great to see that such a terrible incident could spark real change. Hopefully the law will follow what the people of the UK so clearly wanted. I believe a Bill similar would receive good traction in the United States and would successfully help those animals that are currently in public service by providing a deterrent for treating the animals like equipment. It would be even better if similar legislation could occur before an incident like Finn’s happens here.

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