Fans around the nation, and all around the world, have been following Fabulous Finn since the gorgeous German Shepherd and his dad, Dave Wardell, melted our hearts with their magic act on Britain’s Got Talent in 2019.
But Finn had already gained our admiration and support when the story of his courage and loyalty first made the news back in 2016.
PC Dave Wardell and PD Finn, were apprehending a robbery suspect when Finn was stabbed in his chest with a ten-inch-blade. When the attacker went for Dave, Finn intercepted the blow. But in saving Dave’s life Finn very nearly lost his own.
At that time there was no law to protect police animals from harm and although the offender had nearly killed Finn, the offence was only classified as criminal damage, so the attacker walked away from court with next to no penalty.
Thankfully, Fin recovered from his life-saving surgery and, with Dave’s devoted care and support, the brave police dog returned to active duty just 8 weeks later.
Throughout his career, this remarkable, highly-trained, highly-decorated police dog, tracked offenders of all kinds; found missing children; tackled armed offenders and saved lives.
Finn retired from the police force in 2017, but that’s not to say he’s been sitting around doing nothing. On the contrary, he and Dave have been on a mission, dedicating themselves to the fight for the protection of service animals.
All their hard work paid off, and in April 2019 new legislation, dubbed Finns Law, was passed, making it a criminal offence to harm a service animal. Animal lovers across the UK rejoiced, but Dave and Finn were not done.
Finn's family, the Wardell's
We spoke to Dave about life with Finn, the charity they’ve set up and their ongoing work campaigning for Finn’s Law Part 2 which aims at extending the maximum sentencing time for offenders who injure a service animal.
Did you always want to work with dogs?
When I was 12 years old I saw a police open day and watched a police dog handler and his dog. They barely said a word to each other and yet they knew exactly what they wanted from one other. It was incredible, that communication going on all the time.
I was very lucky. When I went on my first course the two trainers I had taught me how to get what I wanted from my dog by using his natural desires and drives. I would give my life for Finn.
You have an incredible bond with Finn. How did you meet?
Finn was about 9 months old when I met him, and he’d been through a few homes, so he’d never had that single person bond. Now it was just him and me, and the bond came from spending a huge amount of time with each other. If you hit the training right and you do it properly and it’s rewards-based you will build that relationship and that trust. It's vital for working together.
When you’re out there facing some quite nasty people, if you don’t have a strong bond by then, you certainly will have after your first few pub fights!
Picture courtesy of Thin Blue Paw Foundation
What was the secret to your success on Britain’s Got Talent?
Dogs pick up on non-verbal communication much more than most of us are aware of. That was part of our appeal on Britain’s Got Talent - our communication. That’s what we wanted to convey: that you can have this non-verbal relationship with your dog.
A great example of this is a couple of years ago when Finn was nominated for a local newspaper award. We met a girl who was also getting an award who had autism and she found it difficult to talk to people. She was nominated four times and each time going on stage, people were whooping and clapping, and you could see she wasn’t comfortable at all. Backstage she immediately navigated to Finn, and Finn to her. In a few brief moments, she completely opened up and was a totally different person around Finn. Everyone could communicate with her through Finn. She would address Finn, and they would address Finn and they could get the answers that they needed for the evening. It was just incredible; her mum was really emotional to see it. That’s the power of dogs.
Campaigning can be hard work, how does Finn cope?
We’ve been quite lucky with lockdown, as we haven’t been able to go anywhere, and campaigning Thin Blue Paw has been quite easy for Finn.
Campaigning for Finn’s Law we went everywhere, all around the country speaking to crowds of 30, up to crowds of 500. We also went to Scotland many times, really getting the word out. We always made sure that Finn had lots of down-time and that he had regular hydro-therapy and physiotherapy because he has picked up some knocks during his career.
In the summer months, we go swimming together, we’ve got a few lakes he loves to swim in. He does hill-work in the lakes, we swim side by side, he absolutely loves that. He just likes being with me and If I go out dog-training for the day I take him with me. We have plenty of down-time together and he loves nothing more than chilling with me in front of the fire for the evening.
Since Finn's Law has been passed, what's next?
We managed to achieve Finn’s Law in England and Wales. Currently, we are still campaigning for Finn’s Law Part 2 which is increased sentencing. At the moment maximum sentencing is only 6 months, we are working to get it to 5 years, as they have achieved in Scotland. Northern Ireland also has 5-year maximum sentencing, and yet we’re still playing catch-up.
Once Finn and I have got Finn’s Law Part 2 finalised, we’d like to take our foot off the pedal a little bit. Yet he has such a massive audience that it would be sad for us not to use it to help other people with their campaigns. So, we’re not done yet.
Picture courtesy of Finns Law Facebook Page
How Is Finn’s Law influencing legislation in other countries?
There is definitely a domino effect. We just had a police officer in Gibraltar contact us to say that Finn’s Law had been passed in their parliament. We’re still waiting for the parliament in the Isle of Man.
Finn and I went to Florida in 2018. We spoke to policymakers and chiefs of police out there. They passed a new law with new sentencing for their service animals that had a maximum sentence of 7 years. I know that our sister organisations in America have been inspired to look at how they treat their service animals and the protections that they give them.
What’s next for Finn?
The Thin Blue Paw Foundation is the next chapter. After we achieved Finn’s Law, we wanted to see what we could do around the welfare of police animals.
There are 48 police forces in the UK at the moment. Only about 14 have local charities for their dogs and they’re all quite small charities. So that left 34 police forces in the country that didn’t have any help for their dogs when it came time for them to retire.
The day they retire, they cease to belong to the police, so the police don’t pay any bills, nor any medical bills, which means no hip replacements or knee replacements. There just isn’t the budget for it.
The Thin Blue Paw stepped in to cover those forces without support, but its aims are much bigger than that. We want to encourage first aid kits for every dog-handler, protective vests for dogs, help with research, and more.
Picture courtesy of Thin Blue Paw Foundation
What are the challenges for people with service dogs?
Yes, some people don’t always recognise what a guide dog looks like or the equipment that he wears to show that he’s a working dog. I have some blind friends who have to explain what their dog is and what their rights are. I feel sorry for people having to explain that their dog is allowed in by law. They regularly get refused by taxis, the driver will see them approaching and just drive off.
With PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) Service Dogs, people can now leave the house and lead much more normal lives because of their dog. To then go to a shop and be refused entry because of that dog is just heart-breaking.
We definitely like to raise awareness whenever we can on Finn’s massive social media. Service Dogs really are a lifeline.
What changes do you see for service dogs going forward?
We know there are lots of schools now who allow learning support dogs in, we know that there are court dogs, and just recently a few police forces have been taking on ‘wellbeing dogs’, they’ll go round and help stressed-out cops, members of staff, and victims of crime.
Since we spoke to Dave there have been exciting developments and Finns Law Part 2 had its 3rd reading in the House of Commons on Friday, 12th March. The legislation now heads to the House of Lords and from there, to the Queen. Looks like Finns Law Part 2 will soon be the law of the land and we will be celebrating another big step forward for animal welfare.
Congratulations to Dave and all the humans who have worked for so long to get to this point, and of course, to Fabulous Finn who continues to inspire positive change.
We hear through the grapevine that Dave will be one of the judges in the newly launched SuperDog Awards, and we’re super excited to hear that Finn and his police dog pals will be appearing at the DogFest event in Hertfordshire later this year. If you haven’t already, you can get tickets to DogFest and meet Dave and Finn in person.
Seems like some of Dave and Finn’s magic has been rubbing off on the next generation. Check out this story about Dave’s charming 11-year old daughter, Tia: Canine Kids Club: Meet UK's Youngest Online Dog Trainer