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A West Midlands Police officer has marked 20 years with the ‘Canine Corps’ by being named the force’s Dog Handler of the Year.
But in true awards acceptance speech style PC Carl Dean has heaped praise on his partner in crime-fighting − Police Dog Eco − for helping him land the accolade.
Super sniffer Eco, who turns five soon, led Carl to a suspected gunman last September after following the suspect’s scent from an abandoned car for more than half a mile, across a ring road, through a park, under a rail bridge, along a canal and finally to a bin storage area!
Eco is the sixth West Midlands Police dog that Carl − who handles German Shepherds and specialist spaniel sniffer dogs − has worked with since joining the unit in 1996.
They’ve helped him catch countless crooks over the years − but Eco’s determined track through Wolverhampton was among the best he’s ever seen.
He said: “What was particularly impressive was that Eco tracked across a huge range of surfaces and through the busy city centre where there are lots of distractions and other scents to potentially lead him astray.
“But he kept really focused over a distance of about half a mile…then when we reached a wall he suddenly went berserk, jumping up and barking. I told the firearms officers with us to surround the refuse area on the other side − and moments later they spotted the suspect hiding behind a large bin.
“It’s a real honour to receive the award but, as any handler knows, you’re only as good as your dog. And Eco has matured into a fantastic police dog.
“He does everything with so much energy…his enthusiasm wears off on me, it’s infectious! We have a good bond, we hit it off straight away, and it’s made him such a joy to train and work.
“It’s important dogs are paired with the right handler: it sounds strange but you can get personality clashes between dogs and handlers so it’s important the pairings are right."
Carl and Eco were joined by PC Sean Barr and Police Dog Scoobie in landing a 2016 Dog Unit Award − this time for “Police Dog Action of the Year".
The pair were called to help find an 89-year-old dementia sufferer who had gone missing from a care home in Knowle on the outskirts of Solihull.
PD Scoobie picked up the man’s scent from an open fire door and led Sean across a church yard and several hundred yards of open land to the rear of some farm buildings where they found the man collapsed.
Sean said: “The man had taken a tumble and couldn’t get back to his feet; it was around six or seven o’clock in the evening when we found him.
“It was a huge relief when Scoobie tracked him down as if he’d remained there undetected he might not have made it through the night.
“Our dogs are trained to search for suspects over a variety of terrains − but for Scoobie to stay focussed over such a long distance was quite incredible and may well have saved this man’s life."
Both Eco and Scoobie are graduates of West Midlands Police’s acclaimed dog breeding and training scheme in Balsall Common.
Dog Handling Supervisor, Sergeant Stephen Winckles, said: “When people think of police dogs they often picture them chasing down fleeing criminals or helping to keep order during disturbances.
“Apprehending offenders is, of course, a key role but they actually have many other uses, including sniffing out drugs, cash and firearms − and as Scoobie demonstrated so brilliantly, to help find missing people.
“Our dogs are highly trained and capable of following a scent over long distances, in all sorts of conditions…so when someone is in grave danger, they really can make the difference between life and death."
The man arrested was one of two detained on suspicion of possessing a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence − but they were later released without charge when enquiries revealed it to be an air weapon.
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