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Five years ago, a police dog was almost stabbed to death while confronting an armed suspect. German shepherd Finn won the hearts of the nation after battling back from life-threatening injuries and appearing on TV shows such as Britain’s Got Talent. But after five years of retirement, how is Finn dealing with life after the force?
Finn bore the brunt of an attack by a 16-year-old boy in Stevenage on 5 October 2016.
The dog almost died from stab wounds to the head and chest, while handler PC Dave Wardell was also injured.
Photographs of the dog’s life-threatening injuries and the story of how they were inflicted captivated audiences and many became invested in the dog’s recovery.
After almost three months, Finn returned to duty, but retired at the age of eight in April 2017.
In June that year, the boy who attacked the pair was detained for eight months after being found guilty of causing PC Wardell actual bodily harm and criminal damage in relation to Finn.
PC Wardell and his family still care for the now 12-year-old Finn, but it has been far from a quiet retirement for the former police dog.
“I don’t think he knows he’s retired – he still thinks he’s got a job,” says PC Wardell.
“We had that one really nasty experience together, but because of that we’ve tried to do everything positive that we can to recognise the role service animals like Finn do – day in, day out.”
Finn became the “poster dog” for a campaign to bring about new laws in the UK to prosecute more severely those who injured service animals such as dogs and police horses.
During the campaign, PC Wardell and Finn had put in many personal appearances at events, awards shows and on television, including news channels.
The pair even appeared on ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent, reducing judge Simon Cowell to tears.
The success of Finn’s Law was followed by another campaign, this time to increase the maximum sentence for cruelty to animals from six months to five years.
It also succeeded and came into force in June this year.
The Wardell family and a friend recently started their own charity – the Thin Blue Paw Foundation – which supports both serving and retired police dogs, and of which Finn is an ambassador.
Has being an ambassador gone to Finn’s head?
“I reckon sometimes Finn knows how important he is – he has a little bounce in his step whenever he’s in front of crowds or a camera,” says PC Wardell.
He said the appearances had been cut back a little as Finn has arthritis in one leg, but since Covid restrictions eased, “his calendar is starting to fill up a little and there’s more we can do”.
Dog-training classes run by the family are expanding and Finn is the inspiration behind those, he says.
“He’s a role model and his fame seems to be inspiring the next generation of both dogs and their owners – so many people come along just to meet Finn.
“In the future, we hope to do more to raise awareness of animal welfare issues, and as ever, Finn will be at the helm,” he says.
The dog is keeping fit and active for these roles, swimming regularly and continuing with scent training, which “is important to keep his brain stimulated”, PC Wardell says.
He says the pair are as devoted to each other as ever, despite living in a household with his wife, three children, five other dogs, two cats and a parrot.
“He’s getting on in doggy years, but he still waits for me every time I come home from work,” he says.
“I think Finn refuses to believe he’s getting older.
“He’s happy, healthy, fit and strong – and he’d go back to work tomorrow, if he could.”
It has been five years since the attack on both Finn and PC Wardell, but that night has not been forgotten.
“On 5 October every year, I wake up in a cold sweat at about 2am – that’s when it happened,” says PC Wardell.
“Finn is usually laying on the floor beside the bed and I reach out and touch him.
“He has always been my hero, and I honestly don’t know what I would do without him there by my side.”