I wasn’t there, but I heard this story from two separate individuals and it involved a police officer, a police dog and a member of the royal household. It occurred in the 1960s, and I did actually meet the dog and handler several times, the last occasion in sad circumstances. As I understand it, all the participants of this episode have passed on so I feel able to put this in print. If these blogs stop it could be that I have ended up in the Tower of London!!
I will refer to the dog handler as “PC Smith” and to the dog as “Fergus”
The actual incident was brief but it is important to set the scene, particularly for younger readers.
This was the 60s, hippies, flower power, bell bottom trousers, mods and rockers, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, (still around) most of the fellas, including me, had shoulder length hair, in fact often referred to as the age of sex, drugs, rock and roll. The sex and drugs passed me by, Joy, however was a disco queen but that is another story…..
One of the biggest differences was that this was the era where there was no political correctness or bleeding hearts.
Before anybody thinks “sad old sod” reminiscing about the past I am not, some things were much better and others much worse, but I expect every generation says the same.
The reason for raising the issue was the difference in the recruitment of police dogs and attitudes.
Nowadays if somebody is bitten by a police dog the first port of call will be a solicitor who will assist them to sue the dog handler, the Chief Constable, the Home Secretary the dogs breeder, the tea lady and probably the dog. In the 60s it was very different.
When a dog handler called out “Stop or I will release the dog” you stopped. There was a simple reason for this, if you didn’t stop and the dog reached you the chances were that you were going to suffer some serious injury.
There were reasons for this:
A dog will cover a distance of 100 yards in under 10 seconds, 50 years later only Usain Bolt can go that fast and he has a flat track, running shoes and kit and gets to start from blocks and he can’t keep that speed up for very long, the dog can!
If you are lucky the the handler will only take twice that amount of time to arrive and instruct his dog to release you, however, in that short space of time, a fully grown German Shepherd Dog who is exerting 238 pounds per square inch pressure on the bit he has got hold of is doing a lot of damage.
To make matters worse the dog would be in no hurry to let go, after all he was enjoying himself!!
However, I digress, in those days police dogs were mainly German Shepherds and Dobermans and they were not chosen for their soft cuddly nature, the same could probably be said about the handlers!!!
Now Fergus was a prime example of a dog with serious attitude. This was a dog who didn’t wait to be told to bite people he did it for fun, even fellow handlers didn’t like being around him and when police dog handlers are nervous you know things are bad. Certainly in todays world he would never be allowed to work.
Now to the incident:
PC Smith and Fergus were seconded to Royal Protection Duty. They were given responsibility for patrolling at night inside the house of Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret and her husband Lord Snowden.
The incident was a combination of circumstances. Police dogs are meant to be on the leash at all times but when a handler is on duty for up to twelve hours it is understandable that in the middle of the night PC Smith let Fergus off the leash. Lord Snowden as I understand it was in the habit of coming down stairs to raid the fridge during the night. A door had been left ajar and the inevitable happened, Fergus heard a noise, went through the door and the Royal Bottom was bitten!!!
Fortunately a winter quality dressing gown and PC Smith’s swift action saved his Lordships backside from series injury.
As I understand, PC Smith and Fergus were transferred back to normal duties and the matter was hushed up.
Fortunately for PC Smith, Lord Snowden was not a typical member of the Royal family, he was a rebellious man, a very unconventional individual who would not have made a fuss, after all before he married Princess Margaret he was just an ordinary guy who was a photographer.
At the time this occurred I was still in school but several years later I was on duty as a veterinary nurse when Fergus made the final journey. His behaviour hadn’t improved and he was so unstable and unpredictable it was decided that the time had come to put him to sleep. I had met this dog several times when he arrived for the regular check ups that were mandatory for police dogs
When police dogs were put to sleep there was a ritual that was rigidly enforced. The appointment was made at a quiet time, every handler whose dog was being euthanized had to bring at least one more colleague, preferably two, and a room was cleared so that the officer could take as much time as he needed to compose himself. Everyone of us knows how tough it is to go through this but imagine having to lose a dog that you have worked with every day for years. PC Smith was as given tranquilizers to give to Fergus prior to bringing him in, enough to knock out a shire horse, naturally on Fergus they had no effect!! As it happens Fergus went fairly easily.
My boss was once asked by a visiting veterinary surgeon why she employed a male nurse, unusual at the time. She replied: “Academically he could improve but if it has four legs and hair he can handle it” I think it was meant to be a compliment!!
She was only partly correct, I doubt that I could have handled Fergus. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to try. After a lifetime working with dogs I freely admit this was the one and only dog who actually frightened me.
He may have been unstable but if reports were anything to go by, Fergus was responsible for saving his handlers life on one occasion and this was the dog called upon when dealing with violent individuals and dangerous situations involving firearms. He was totally fearless. Not many dogs leave that sort of legacy. He never got to enjoy a retirement, but you know what, that was probably just as well, you just couldn’t imagine Fergus, old, arthritic, losing his sight etc. laying in front the fire. Best the way it was.
Wherever he is. R.I.P.
If there is a heaven it’s certain that our animals will be there. Their lives are so interwoven with our own it would take more than an archangel to untangle them.