Two new police watchdogs are helping North Wales’ four-legged crimefighters to keep paw and order.
Marie Jones and Clare Vickers have been appointed as volunteer dog welfare visitors to keep a check on how the police look after the canine cops.
The North Wales scheme was set up by the region’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Arfon Jones, a former police inspector.
Working alongside colleagues in Cheshire, Marie and Clare make monthly unannounced visits to view dog training sessions or visit dog handlers and their canine companions out on patrol.
Their brief is to ensure police dogs are properly cared for, happy and their working conditions are acceptable.
Arfon Jones said: “The police dogs are often the unsung heroes of North Wales Police and they perform an absolutely vital role.
“It’s important North Wales Police is transparent and the general public has confidence that the dogs are properly cared for and trained well. North Wales Police and Cheshire dog sections work very closely together and share training.
“I know the dog visitor scheme is working well in Cheshire and I was encouraged to set up the scheme by Sergeant Howard Watts, a North Wales dog handler, who pushed for its introduction.
“It is important we have independent checks and controls in place to ensure good animal welfare standards are robustly maintained. We must ensure our dogs are happy and well cared for.”
He added: “It’s true of course, for most police dog handlers it’s their dream job. It’s a role they have to apply for and they do the job because they love working with dogs.”
Marie and Clare are both dog lovers and get a great deal of satisfaction out of the role.
Marie, of Deganwy, a former teacher and university lecturer, explained: “We work on a rota basis with our two Cheshire colleagues. Our visits are unannounced so officers are unaware when we are visiting.
“We are primarily looking to see if the dogs are well cared for, healthy and responding to their handlers. We also check the conditions in which they are kept and that includes ensuring the police vehicles they are transported in are clean and suitable for the task.
“A healthy dog will respond to the handler and you can quickly see if a real bond exists between the two. We discuss any issues we feel we need to raise with the handler and will seek clarification from Sergeant Watts if we feel we need to.”
Clare Vickers, of Abergele, a retired plumbing company director, added: “It’s such a worthwhile scheme. We are totally independent and we ensure openness and good practice.
“The officers have no idea when we are going to show up. We get a rota advising us at what time and where the dogs and their handlers are likely to be. Different dogs do different jobs and so the training varies whether it’s searching for drugs, firearms, people tracking or whatever.
“It’s actually amazing to watch the training and to see the close bond and the relationship between dog and handler. You can read how happy a dog is and how it wants to work with its handler.”
She added: “The scheme is the canine equivalent of the custody visitor scheme where lay people visit prisoners in custody to ensure they are being properly cared for. It’s a very worthwhile scheme and I’m delighted to be involved.”
North Wales Police sergeant Howard Watts, who has served as a police officer for 27 years, 17 of which have been as a dog handler, says he had long wanted to see a dog visiting scheme introduced.
He said: “We need to be transparent and the public across North Wales and Cheshire need to have confidence we treat our dogs well and they are happy and well cared for.
“We currently have 15 operational dogs in North Wales. They are used for different tasks which is why we have different breeds. My dog, Otis, is a four-year-old yellow Labrador which is trained to find drugs such as cannabis, heroin, amphetamines, and cocaine.
“He can also search for cash, Sterling and Euros, and firearms including component parts.
“We also have German Shepherd and Belgian Malinoirs trained for public order and crowd control and people searches as well as Springer spaniels that are also search trained dogs.
“Otis, who I have had since he was just eight weeks old, lives at home with me. It takes around eight weeks to train a search dog like Otis and around 12 weeks to train a general purpose dog.
“The dog visitor scheme is a great way to ensure the welfare of police dogs is taken seriously and I’m pleased we have dedicated volunteers who know what they are doing and what they are looking for.”
Constable Gareth Jones, who has 17 years’ service as a police officer of which eight have been as a dog handler, says he believes the dog welfare visitors have an important role to play.
Gareth, who works with Seren, an 18 month old newly trained Labrador drug search dog, said: “I really agree with the scheme. They check vehicles for cleanliness and ensure our dogs are trained and cared for properly.
“Of course we have nothing to hide but it’s good the checks are being done and we are transparent and open.”