Cindy for inlineFor many people, leaving work at the office door is an easy task.  

But for police dog handlers, the job doesn't just stop when you head home. In fact, it's a complete lifestyle change.

And for PC Cindy Hargreave, it's a lifestyle change she simply couldn't live without.

PC Hargreave's police dogs Tyke and Jim live at home with her, like all police dogs. They go to work together, and they go home together. They are very rarely not by her side. And that's just the way she likes it.

"I spend my life walking dogs and I wouldn't have it any other way - they are my boys," she said.

Tyke is a seven-year-old German Shepherd who works as a general purpose police dog and recently qualified as a firearms support dog. Jim is a sprocker and is three years old. He works as a specialist search dog.

The dogs live in PC Hargreave's garden in a specially made kennel, complete with parasol to protect them from the sun and extra security to prevent them from escaping.

"Some people will think it's unfair that the dogs live outside, but they are happy and they know this is their space where they can relax uninterrupted and switch off after a shift at work or on a rest day," said PC Hargreave. "They have a vet bed and blankets and Jim has cushions. Tyke has a thick undercoat and manages well in the winter and I've bought Jim an equifleece which he wears on cold nights. I don't have the dogs in my house, as whilst I am not house proud, it would be wrong to tell Jim off for getting on furniture, work tops and the like, as at work I require him to be all over this type of area and it would confuse him."

Despite this, the dogs become part of the family and it's a lifestyle Cindy's 13-year-old daughter Lily has embraced.

"It impinges on your whole family. Lily has done a lot of dog walks with me but she loves the dogs as much as I do so they have become her life. It can also be really hard on the family when the dogs don't make it - I've had a dog that didn't quite make the cut before and it was heart-breaking for a little girl to understand."

Even on rest days, there's no rest for our dog handlers. It's up at 6.30am to walk the dogs, out again at lunch time for another walk and again in the evening.

"The dogs are a full time commitment," said PC Hargreave. "And even once we finish a shift, there's no feet up, as the dogs need to be toileted and fed before kennelling.

"You can never go out for a full day when you are on rest days as they need to be exercised. This is the biggest bind as you are always planning how long you have got until you need to be home to let them out. With the nice weather we are having, it can be lovely, but the winter can offer weeks of rain and that brings wet walking gear everywhere, wet kennels, wet cars and wet dogs. There's no sitting inside on a freezing day, wet day or boiling hot day. And there isn't a day you remain clean!"

Walking the dogs isn't always stress free either, as the handlers have to be mindful of other people and their dogs.

"Obviously every dog owner has to be mindful, but when you have licensed police dogs, you need to be beyond reproach."

The police dogs have a training week every six weeks at work, but training always continues out of work hours, as PC Hargreave explains.

"I train the dogs daily to keep them on top of their game and up to speed. Although the dogs belong to Wiltshire Police, all handlers regard them as their own and you have to have a strong bond with your dog and trust them 100 per cent that they will protect you and deliver when needed. I am lucky that Tyke has delivered on many occasions for me, and saved me from serious injury on occasions. One incident I remember clearly was a big disorder at an illegal rave. We'd been bombarded with missiles for hours, when eventually the Police Support Unit entered a compound, and I faced a man with a metal bar. As Tyke and I went towards him, unbeknown to me, a man holding a metal petrol barrel over his head ran at me, attempting to throw the barrel at me. Tyke bit the man on the arm and brought him to the ground detaining him until PSU took control of him, while I dealt with the man with the bar. It was a great team effort.

"I could list numerous occasions Tyke has caught criminals for me - one of the finest was when he chased around a housing estate in Swindon and found an offender hidden in a garden, who had committed an armed robbery.

"While this all sounds like a lot of work, to me, it is the best job in the world. I live sleep and breathe my dogs and that is what you have to do when you are a dog handler. I couldn't be without them and would protect them as they would I. All they want to do is work and they get so excited about going to work, they go mad when I flick the keys to the car."

Now at the age of seven, Tyke is due to retire next year and it is a day PC Hargreave will find difficult.

"Tyke is my boy and I cannot imagine working another police dog as he has so much character," she said. "All handlers have the option to keep their police dog and whilst this does not work for everyone, I will be keeping my boy as I could not imagine ever being without him, he has served me his working life and the least I can do is look after him and offer him the best retirement I can.

"I adore my dogs and try to give them the best life they can have - I couldn't be without them."

Published on Tuesday 7 August 2018.

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