A bill making it a specific offence to attack police or prison officer dogs or police horses is set to become law after the government decided to back the measure, closing what campaigners said was a loophole in existing legislation.
The animal welfare (service animals) bill, introduced by Conservative MP Sir Oliver Heald, was due to have its second reading on Friday. As a private members’ bill it had minimal chance of securing enough parliamentary time to be passed.
But the environment secretary, Michael Gove, said the measure would receive government backing, so as to “offer stronger protection for the many brave service animals that help to protect us”.
The bill amends the 2006 Animal Welfare Act by making it a specific offence of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal “under the control of a relevant officer”, such as a police or prison officer.
It also removes a current provision for someone to claim self defence if they have harmed a service animal.
It was introduced by Heald, the MP for North East Hertfordshire, following the case of a police dog called Finn, which was stabbed by a robbery suspect in 2016.
Finn and his handler, police officer Dave Wardell, a constituent of Heald’s, had tracked the suspect to a garden when he stabbed the dog in the chest. Despite the injuries, Finn – also suffering a head wound – then protected Wardell from an attempt to stab his handler.
Finn clung on to the man until reinforcements arrived. He survived and returned to work, but underwent four hours of surgery.
While the arrested man was charged with actual bodily harm against Wardell, the only options over the injuries to Finn were causing unnecessary suffering to an animal or criminal damage.
The arrested man received a jail term for the assault on Wardell, but the court decided there was no need to add an additional penalty for the attack on Finn.
Wardell said that the bill would be a suitable response to the bravery of Finn, now retired. “When Finn was seriously injured it didn’t seem right to me or the public that he was seen as an inanimate object or property, in law,” he said.
Heald said he was delighted at receiving government support: “This is a good day for all of our brave service animals.”