Police dog's death leads to RSPCA ban

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The Independent Online
British police dogs have long been admired for their courage under fire and readiness to take on even the most unsavoury characters, but now questions are being asked about just how they are transformed from man's best friend into criminal's worst enemy.

The image of the trusty bobby with his faithful companion (such as Sabre, pictured) by his side is a familiar one. But the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has decided to stop supplying dogs to police forces in England and Wales following allegations of cruelty during the animals' training.

The decision, by the animal welfare establishment committee, followed claims that a police dog died after being kicked during training by Essex police. Acer, a German Shepherd, collapsed and died on 11 November while on a week-long refresher course. A post-mortem examination showed that he died from a haemorrhage caused by a ruptured liver.It was alleged that Constable Mark Needham, Acer's handler, was ordered to kick the dog while he was tied to a pole, to teach him to control his aggressive tendencies. A close colleague said PC Needham had refused to kick the dog at first and was devastated when the two-year-old black and tan dog collapsed.

Essex police had already begun an internal investigation following complaints from another dog handler about the force's training methods. A statement from the force said: "Following a complaint by a dog-handler in October this year about training methods employed by the Essex Police Dog Training Centre, an internal investigation was set up under Deputy Chief Constable Charles Clark." Training methods used by the centre have been stopped pending the results of the investigation, it added.

An RSPCA spokeswoman said: "The suspension on the rehoming of RSPCA dogs to police forces will remain in place until the internal investigation by Essex Police is completed. We have to be particularly watchful, especially if the dogs we supply have already come from a home where they are badly treated. We have to be completely accountable to the people who fund us."

The training methods which were understood to have led to the death of the dog have horrified other police dog trainers and handlers. Corporal punishment of dogs is banned in a Home Office police training manual.