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The Independent Culture
PROTECTIVE BOOTS tend to be size 12 steel-reinforced clodhoppers; but the latest footwear issue to the police and prison services comes in daintier sizes, even if it is no less rugged in construction. These boots are for police and prison dogs, who can badly cut their paws on glass and debris in the course of their work.

The boots have rubber soles lined with an aluminium-armoured layer, followed by cushioned material under the dog's paw. They fasten with either laces or Velcro and come in 18 sizes; each dog wears two different pairs, with a bigger size for the larger front paws.

"We came up with the idea after a spate of prison disturbances," says Steve Allen, governor in charge of prison dogs nationwide. "Our dogs are very valuable to us and we don't want them to get injured. The handlers are issued with a full set of protective equipment, including boots - so why not the dogs?"

He enlisted designer Douglas Buchanan to work on the project, which took two years to complete; they are still testing to find which material is hardest-wearing in the field. Prototypes were tried out on their own dogs. "Douglas has a rather overweight old labrador called Bertie, and Bertie took to them quite well, so we then tried them on my German shepherd, Luke. When we first put one on him, he looked very sorry for himself, and lifted up his paw. But when we put on the full set he couldn't lift all four feet at once, so he soon got used to it." The dog teams have been having extra training to help them get used to their new uniforms; Mr Allen says that wearing boots makes no difference to their performance and that they soon seem to forget that they are wearing them.

Prison dogs are not the only ones who will benefit from this new invention. "We have had a lot of interest from other agencies," says Mr Allen. "For example, search dogs who help after disasters have to get in amongst sharp rubble. In New Mexico, the border patrollers want to protect their dogs' paws from the hot sand."

Members of the public have also been calling in. "German shepherds tend to suffer from hip problems," says Mr Allen. "This can cause them to drag their paws, which can mean bleeding, so we have had people phoning to try and buy boots to protect their dog's feet. Sometimes they just want one or two, not a full set of four."

The boots are not currently available to the public, though Buchanan says he hopes to move into the domestic market once the police and prison services have been equipped. This may be a more complicated proposal than boots for working dogs. "We had one woman who had read about the boots in California," he says. "She wanted a set in pink to match her anorak - money no object." !