Northern Ireland

Finn's Law: Search dog Max saves lives; who protects his?

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Media captionSearch dog Max saves lives; who protects his?

Meet Max - the rescue dog who now finds missing people across Northern Ireland.

The four-year-old labrador, who lives in Bangor, County Down, is a highly trained air scenting search dog.

Max recently located a vulnerable woman who had been missing for almost two days in freezing conditions. It took him just eight minutes.

"His reward is a ball, that's all he's interested in," Max's handler, Ryan Gray, told BBC News NI.

"He has no idea that he's just saved a lady's life and will save more lives right around Northern Ireland."

Max also regularly helps HM Coastguard teams on rescue missions, but he is not protected by law if he is attacked in the line of duty.

Image copyright The Backyard Photography Company
Image caption Max has special goggles to help with his searches

Last month, Finn's Law - legislation that gives protection to service dogs and horses - was given Royal Assent.

The new legislation means causing unnecessary suffering to a service animal is now an offence in England and Wales. It comes shortly after Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced Finn's Law would be introduced in Scotland.

But it does not extend to Northern Ireland, meaning that an attack on Max would likely be treated as criminal damage, like breaking a window.

Now more than 30,000 people have joined a campaign to change that.

Image copyright Dave Wardell
Image caption The extent of Finn's injuries prompted campaigners to call for changes to animal attack laws

Finn's Law was inspired by German shepherd Finn, who was stabbed while trying to apprehend a man in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, in 2016.

The dog was stabbed in the chest and head while protecting his handler, PC Dave Wardell, and did not let go of the assailant until reinforcements arrived.

But while the 16-year-old suspect was charged with actual bodily harm in relation to wounds to PC Wardell, he faced only criminal damage charges over the injuries to Finn, which sparked calls for an amendment to the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Image copyright Dave Wardell
Image caption Finn never once moaned about his pain as long as his "dad" was with him, PC Wardell said

Finn and PC Wardell moved Britain's Got Talent judge Simon Cowell to tears last month, when they appeared on the reality TV programme.

And Ryan Gray, who works for HM Coastguard, hopes the extra media attention will help push Finn's Law through in Northern Ireland.

"The dogs are put in enough danger as it is in their day-to-day work without there being no law or legislation protecting them should anyone wish to hurt or attack them," he said.

"If I knew we had this law backing us, backing the dog and the work he does, it would put my mind at more rest when I know I'm sending him in to search for someone who could potentially be violent towards Max."

Image caption Ryan Gray volunteers as part of K9 Search and Rescue Northern Ireland

If Finn's Law was introduced in Northern Ireland, it would cover attacks against all service dogs, including guide and assistance dogs.

"Finn's Law is not about politics. This is about putting right an unacceptable flaw contained within current legislation," said a spokesperson for Finn's Law Northern Ireland.

"It is immoral that the law does not protect those animals upon which we place so much demand and responsibility. These are animals who serve with such loyalty and dedication to keep us safe.

"Our service animals provide an essential support to the community."

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