To mark International Dog Day, Avon and Somerset Police historian ALAN VOWELS looked back through time at the role of canine crime fighters with the force…
IT was on a summer’s day in the mid-1920s that Father O’Connell first spotted the cardboard box as he made his way through Kings Square in Bristol.
The box looked out of place and so he made his way over to it and cautiously lifted the lid and looked inside.
Within was a small ball of black and brown fluff in the form of an Airedale puppy, staring longingly at him.
Shortly thereafter, he presented the box to the Mother Superior of St Mary’s private hospital.
The Sisters excitedly adopted him, named him Jim, paid his dog licence fee and over the next year, he became a regular sight in the hospital buildings and grounds. And then, overnight, he left…
Following an instinct only he could understand, at the age of about 12 months, Jim left the hospital and having found a police constable, proceeded to follow him for the entirety of the officer’s beat.
In the morning, the PC returned Jim to the hospital but that night he left again and found an officer to follow.
Each morning he was brought back and each evening he escaped and patrolled a beat with a PC.
Jim decided, for reasons unknown, the dour-looking police station at Brandon Hill was now his home and the police constables were now his new friends.
By early 1925, Jim had moved into the station and even had his own basket in the parade room to sleep in.
He was formally adopted by the station, the officers all volunteered to pay a shilling a week towards his upkeep and PC Simms volunteered to feed him and give him a weekly shampoo and bath.
To mark his adoption by the station, a collar was made for him and inscribed with the legend, ‘Jim (Police Dog) Brando Hill Police Station, Clifton’.
Jim soon assumed a routine, where he would sleep through the day in his basket, and when the officers paraded in the evening prior to going out, he would walk up and down the line before choosing a PC to patrol with that night.
It was never the same PC as the night before.
One of the most amazing things about Jim was that despite all the enticements and encouragements of the sergeants and inspectors, he would not follow anyone other than a constable.
Now famous in the local press, one of the local papers, the Bristol Observer, even wondered in an editorial how Jim could tell the difference between the ranks.
Already earning his place in the history of Avon and Somerset as possibly its first ever police dog, Jim took it to a new level when, in October 1928, he saved the life of one of his adopted PCs.
It was 1.30am and Jim was accompanying PC 133 Ogbourne on his beat along the Wells Road when the officer collapsed in the street, shattering his jaw, and rendering himself unconscious in the process.
Jim initially barked for attention but when this failed, he returned to the police station and stood outside barking continuously.
PC 75 Nash, on duty inside, opened the door and proceeded down the hill to identify the reason for Jim’s distress but was unknowingly heading in the wrong direction.
Jim grabbed the officer’s trouser leg in his teeth and pulled up the hill to encourage the PC to follow him.
Three times he returned to PC Nash and tugged his trouser legs, ‘pulling’ him up the hill.
The PC followed Jim some distance, where he discovered his seriously injured colleague and was able to facilitate an ambulance.
PC Ogbourne made a full recovery from a situation that the local press was quick to point out could have cost him his life.
In the month’s following Jim’s rescue of the injured PC, the Mother Superior of St Mary’s gifted him to the Bristol Constabulary who, on February 8, 1929, paid for his dog licence.
For aiding in the officer’s rescue, the Bristol Dog’s Home commissioned a special silver collar and medal detailing Jim’s loyalty.
On May 26, 1930, a special ceremony was held in his honour within the Lord Mayor’s Parlor at the Council House, and the Lady Mayoress of Bristol awarded Jim with a “very beautiful” collar and engraved silver medal.
Both national and local newspapers printed his story.
PD Jim played his part for our current canine officers.
Sergeant Nick Dalrymple, from the Avon and Somerset Police Dog Team, shares a personal introduction to some of his canine colleagues.
“To give an account of a remarkable dog within our Police Dog section is an impossible task – all our dogs are remarkable, and it is difficult to single out one particular pooch,” he said.
“Indeed, within my own pack, it is also impossible to select a favourite, in the same way that you can’t have a child that is more special than the other.
“A police dog family is a special bond.”
“I can’t paint my own canine portrait without first mentioning a departed special friend,” Sgt Dalrymple went on.
“Retired Police Dog Aden passed away this year at the grand old age of 13 years old. He was a unique and special dog – simply my best friend.
“I brought Aden home at seven weeks old and it was the beginning of an incredible journey.
“Aden had a magnificent career. He was quite a ‘thief taker’ and captured many a burglar and car thief with his incredible tracking and searching skills.
“He was a fantastic police dog, and this was highlighted when he won the National Police Dog Trials in 2013 – beating the best dogs in the UK in this four-day competition that puts the competitors through their skills.
“Aden eventually retired at the age of eight and spent the rest of his days by the fire and accompanying us on family holidays.
“He is still in our hearts every day – his portrait hangs proudly in our living room and reminds us of this fantastic creature.
“He was an extremely emotionally intelligent dog – providing comfort and solace to our teenage son who batted with mental health issues. He migrated to sleeping on my son’s bed and followed him everywhere like a guardian angel.
“For this alone – I am indebted to this wonderful dog.”
PD Ash is now at the ripe age of seven years old and is at the twilight of his career.
He has finished his days of ‘general purpose patrol’ but is still gainfully employed as a Tactical Firearms Support Dog in support of armed deployments.
He has been an outstanding servant and a dependable crew mate. He too won the National Police Dog Championships in 2019.
His proudest day was on March 21, 2021, when a riot ensued in Bristol City Centre, outside the Bridewell Police Station.
PD Ash and his fellow canine partners helped prevent entry being gained into the police station and then dispersed the surrounding streets in conjunction with uniformed colleagues.
This was an outstanding achievement by Ash and the four other dogs present.
It culminated in all five dogs being awarded the National Service Dog Bravery and Achievement Award in 2022.
Ash is starting to acclimatise to a more domestic setting now as he prepares for life indoors.
He informs me that he can cope easily with the transition.
PD Eva, a Belgium Malinois, has been in her current pack for two years.
She is a complicated little soul who clearly has been misunderstood prior to her police career.
However, she is doing brilliantly now. She won the K9 Fireside Trial in West Yorkshire recently and this week, she detained her first suspect following a domestic assault – the offender had been hiding in gardens nearby.
PD Fred is an Explosive Detection Dog who has also had an exciting career with regards to his public service. He has worked all over the country.
His highlight has been searching Westminster Abbey on the night before Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. This was a great honour.
In 2022, Fred completed the Three Peaks Challenge to raise funds for the Retired Police Dogs Charity (WAGS – Wilts, Avon and Somerset and Gloucestershire).
Sgt Dalrymple added:”All three dogs cohabit peacefully together within the pack and are a constant joy to be around.”