Happy New Year! For many people in Scotland, this means taking advantage of our two day holiday (yes, two days. As you know we take Hogmanay very seriously here) to recover from a few drams too many or joining family for a traditional steak pie dinner.
So I was thinking about we bloggers and what a friendly bunch we are, hands across oceans etc. Emails across oceans is more accurate. But less romantic.
And I got to thinking about friends. If you sit and think about five friends you have, most of them will have similar traits. They will be loyal, they will do things in companionable silence without wittering on like a demented budgie with Tourette's. They will make you laugh and they will be slightly dafter than you. So you can feel a little superior. And of course that is a perfect description of a dog.
There will be one friend who is a cat – the friend who only calls when they want something. The friend who orders the most expensive food on the menu when you are paying the bill. The friend who will not tell you exactly what they have been up to but you know from the smile on their face that they enjoyed it. When you finally decide that you have had enough of being used, they do something charming and wonderful, knowing they will be forgiven. And that friend is your cat friend, we all have them.
(A recent survey said that cat owners are more likely to have a university degree but dog owners live longer than cat owners do!)
So thinking about crime writers, it is in the area of ‘criminal’ activities that our friends differ. Cats murder things and bring their victims home. Whereas dogs are rather helpful in the pursuit of crime detection. And indeed how often, in fiction and real life do we read ‘the body was found by a passing dog walker’. In truth the body was found by a passing dog.
One of the first, digging his new uniform...
The image of the British police dog is iconic, Glasgow was one of the first forces in Britain to recruit police dogs in 1910. Only because the force was getting a little bit desperate. Crime was increasing, violent housebreakings (what we call burglary ) were becoming common. A Lt Colonel Richardson who owned a dog training school at Carnoustie had contacted every chief constable in the UK about training police dogs but there had been no interest – until he contacted Glasgow.
He did not supply one of these though;
( this is Nipper, the first police dog of the new Police Scotland)
It was one of these…
Which I always think of as….
Somehow even more scary.
Airedale terriers were originally bred as hunting dogs so they would track their quarry across any terrain. This made them ideal as police dogs, but Richardson went a step further, breeding them with other dogs to develop their intelligence and sense of smell.
During the First World War, these dogs went on to become incredibly important to the army, able to carry messages when soldiers wouldn’t make it through or to alert soldiers to approaching enemies.
But time proved that the German Shepherds were brighter, more trainable and possessed a keener sense of smell than Airdales. And the image of the police dog we know became more familiar.
I have had the pleasure to know Jim and Chet. I have changed their names to protect the guilty. Jim is a tall strapping police officer from the days when police officers had to be tall and strapping and be able to run after criminals, whereas now I think all they need to be able to do is spreadsheets and sit in McDonalds eating burgers. ( Just a personal observation!)
Chet was a big boned German Shepherd who liked to chase bad people and hold them down. If they annoyed him, he bit them gently. If he was bored he would chase anything that ran away from him.
He was a brave and determined lad, keen in pursuit, fast across the ground – and so was Jim until the day Chet took off down an eight feet drop at the end of a five feet lead and dislocated Jim’s shoulder. Words were said, Chet was cursed by Jim but gave his handler a “there will be time enough for that kind of talk once we’ve caught him” Rin Tin Tin look. And they started running again…..and they caught him.
His most (in) famous exploit happened on an outfield of the airport. On a dark, dark night two suspects had got in past the perimeter fence. Two officers within the perimeter were send to chase them and Chet was sent in to assist. They were to chase the thieves up to the corner of the fence where a police car was waiting on the other side. If they made it over the fence (8 feet high ) they would be apprehended on the outside. If they didn’t, they would be caught by their pursuers…and Chet.
The thieves took one look at Chet and ran for the fence, as did the two officers. Chet was running free, and unbeknown to them - was very good at getting over fences. There was a self-satisfied smile for thirty seconds when the thieves got over the fence only to be handcuffed by the two cops from the squad car, plus the two cops that Chet had been assisting. Then they realised that Chet was clawing his way slowly up the wire.
Jim was too far behind to call Chet off. ( and confesses that he wouldn’t have.)
Chet was in outraged pursuit. With nowhere to go police and thieves piled into the police car, six in all, arms and legs everywhere. The doors banged closed just in time and Chet bounced from window to window, barking furiously that he had run all that way and was entitled to bite someone.
Jim (still on the inside), took one look at the fence, felt his shoulder and decided against the climb. He walked all the way back to the dog van, leaving Chet in charge of the situation. Chet was found on top of the squad car with the four cops and two thieves trembling inside.
We shall draw a veil over the time he chased an assistant police commissioner up a tree. I think that was in front of some Norwegian policemen who were keen to see a demonstration. They thought Chet was great. They disliked their commissioners as much as Chet disliked his.
Barney retired after ten years of loyal drug sniffing.
And then we think of the cadaver dogs- scenting the decomposing body twenty minutes after death. The drug sniffing dogs, the search dogs, the mountain rescue dogs. The guide dogs for the blind, the hearing dogs for the deaf, diabetic and epileptic sensing dogs that really can change the lives of very young kids. And the cancer detecting dogs. The assistance dogs for disabled. Rumours are that they can be better than the average husband at putting the washing machine on.
And not forgetting the dogs in military service, used in bomb detection and disposal. And I have no doubt, keeping up moral in the most horrific of circumstances.
And then we have pet dogs who wouldn't even wear the comedy reindeer antlers for a photograph...
So a great new year to all our friends, no matter where in the world. No matter how many legs they have. Or whose antlers.