New independent dog welfare visitors' scheme first of its kind
A new voluntary scheme to check the welfare of police dogs is the first to encompass three police force areas.
The former Hertfordshire Police Authority scheme, endorsed by the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, Dogs Trust, has been extended to cover the three counties of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire under the auspices of the three new Police and Crime Commissioners.
Scheme Administrator, Brian Pereira, who is based at Hertfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioners office, said: “Each of the three counties has its own local volunteers who make unannounced visits to police dogs in their force area at police stations and during training, to ensure they are being well looked after and treated correctly.  Their visits are fully audited and recorded, with an annual report produced which will be carefully scrutinised by each of the Police and Crime Commissioners.

“The ten visitors themselves all have experience of handling German Shepherds or other working dogs and also have had specialist training from Dogs Trust.”
Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Olly Martins, said: “The dogs are an important part of the policing family and I think it’s reassuring for the public to know that we have independent verification that they are healthy, happy and well trained members of the team. 
“The animal welfare visitors do a tremendous job and we are grateful to them for volunteering their time and expertise.  There is no suggestion that any dog is anything other than well cared for, but this scheme demonstrates that. On the other hand, in the, hopefully unlikely, event of anything going tragically wrong we would be alerted very quickly.”
Sir Graham Bright, Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “I am pleased to support the launch of the tri-county scheme which provides an important and independent check on the condition and welfare of police dogs across the three policing areas.”
The Police and Crime Commissioner for Hertfordshire, David Lloyd, said: “This is a unique arrangement that will ensure the dogs used in all three police force areas are healthy, happy and able to provide a good service to the public.”

Since the tragic death of a police dog in another force area whilst training in 2003, animal welfare lay visiting schemes were recommended by the Association of Chief Police Officers.  By 2006 both Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire had their own schemes running and this became a joint scheme with the collaboration of the Beds and Herts Police Dog Units in 2009. The addition of Cambridgeshire has created a tri-county programme, keeping down the cost to run it whilst maintaining the highest standards of dog welfare in all three police forces.
Mick Chidgey, Assistant Director at Dogs Trust, said: “We oversee 27 welfare schemes in UK police forces and as Hertfordshire’s was one of the best in the country, we are excited to see it extended to all three county forces. 
“The welfare of working dogs is critically important – they have the same basic needs of any intelligent, sensitive animal. We are pleased to oversee this independent scheme which will give the public the confidence that police dogs are well cared for and treated with respect by their handlers.”
The three forces generally use German Shepherds. These dogs are used for searching, tracking, arrest work and crowd control. Other breeds, including springer spaniels, are used to search for drugs, firearms, explosives or cash. 
The inspections observe the five ‘freedoms’: from hunger and thirst; discomfort; pain, injury and disease; the freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from fear and distress. Between April and October 2012 the Herts and Beds visitors made 71 inspections, reporting back four negative comments but no concerns.