Countess Bathurst: Supporting our dogs and horses of the emergency services
- Credit: Countess Bathurst
Lady B's no-nonsense banter from Cirencester Park
In a recent column, I was extolling the virtues of the work done by our emergency services animals: police dogs and horses, fire investigation dogs, and prison dogs.
During my year as High Sheriff of Gloucestershire I had the privilege of spending a great deal of time with these fine creatures, and it was only then that I discovered when they retire, they’re no longer financially covered by the services to which they were attached.
During their careers, everything is taken care of: food, kennelling or stabling, inoculations, medical care – even toys, which are used for training. But the day they hang up their collars and harnesses, that all stops.
This is not a criticism. It’s just a fact. Budgets must be met, and serving animals need to be fed and cared for. It should also be noted that Gloucestershire’s PCC and Chief Constable do provide retired animals with their annual inoculations, but they are the exception to the national rule.
Horses go onto new homes, whether that be the Horses Trust to gently retire, or if young enough, private hands. But dogs are so much more than working partners, they are members of the family, and the families want their dogs to stay with them. So, in most cases, retired service dogs will stay with their handler.
This is perfectly understandable, the bond shared between a handler and their working partner is unbreakable and it is unthinkable the pair may be broken up after eight or more years of being together through thick and thin.
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However, there is a problem. As we all know, animals get older, and when they do, they need medical attention. This comes at a cost, vets are not cheap, and because it’s impossible to insure a retired emergency service dog, the financial burden can be overwhelming.
As a result, the handler sometimes has no option but to rehome his old working pal, and nearly always the deciding factor in the decision comes down to the worry of facing vet’s bills as the years advance.
I can’t imagine the agony of having to give up your partner of so many years simply for this reason, someone with whom you’ve probably spent more time than your family, to say nothing of the confusion for the dogs, as well as the heartbreak for the handler’s children being separated from their, in some cases, lifelong family companion.
So, back in 2016, I started to hatch a plan and I am incredibly proud to share with you the launch of a new charity, that will help solve the agony of these amazing teams being separated.
The National Foundation for Retired Service Animals is clear in its objectives. To alleviate the financial pressure on the owners and handlers of retired service animals across the country by helping with ongoing vet bills and care; promoting their well-being, and the extraordinary work they do.
There are several local retired police dog charities in existence, we have WAGS here in Gloucestershire for example. They do amazing work, and we will be there to support them. But there is nothing in place for police horses, fire investigation dogs, or prison dogs – we will cover all three services, and on a national basis.
The Board of Trustees bring a wealth of experience. They include the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire, Rod Hansen; Chief Fire Officer of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Neil Odin; and Nigel Batchelor from HMPPS Dog Section.
The Management Committee are already working tirelessly, and there is a powerful list of ambassadors who will help spread the word, including Minnie Driver, Deborah Meaden, David Gower, Patrick Robinson, Nick Knowles, Adam Henson, Laurence and Jackie Llewelyn-Bowen, Carol Vorderman and Lisa Maxwell.
Quite simply put, these extraordinary animals have given their lives to keeping us safe. I hope you will agree it’s only right we should acknowledge that by helping to take care of them in their twilight years.
I would love it If you would all get involved. You can visit the website www.nfrsa.org.uk and donate, or perhaps hold a fund-raising event for The NFRSA.
Please help us to ‘Protect Our Protectors’ this summer – they deserve nothing less.
Follow Lady B on Twitter: @CotswoldLadyB