Duncan Matthews is the Honorary Secretary and Trustee of Fireside K9. A newly formed charity focused on helping retired police dogs in West Yorkshire.
Duncan has been in the West Yorkshire Police for 13 years now and since 2008 has joined the dog section where he is currently working.
I’ve seen demonstrations of these amazing dogs in action in events such as Crufts this year and it’s incredible to witness the work and dedication these handlers go through. I think it really emphasises the trust and relationship between man and dog.
There has been much talk about Fireside K9 on social media websites. Recently Kay Burley (Sky News Presenter & Founding Member) has become Patron of this charity which will officially be launched on October the 20th. After briefly speaking to Duncan about it, I wanted to find out more about the charity and the work the police dogs do.
Q. Thank you so much for giving the time to do this interview. Could you give us an insight into the charity and what it does?
A. When a police dog retires, all responsibility then falls onto the handler for their care. This includes all of the food, and vet bills and everything else that comes along with caring for a dog.
There are currently no insurance companies that will offer cover for a retired police dog and very few kennels that will take them in
We hope that one day, if a handler is faced with the choice between a dog having an expensive treatment or operation or having to have them put to sleep, that they can come to the charity and we can help fund it. After all these dogs have done for us and given for us the choice should never have to come down to cost.
Q. So what age does a police dog become officially ‘retired’?
A. Retirement age can be anywhere between 7-9 years of age, depending on the health of the dog. They can often live on to 13-14 years old happily with their handler at home and this can often mean that a handler may have two retired dogs as well as their current working dogs.
Q. Can anyone look after a retired police dog?
A. For a dog to be a successful working dog it needs a strong bond with the handler. This bond will always be there and this is why the handler keeps them after retirement.
For a dog to be a successful working dog it needs a strong bond with the handler.
Q. So they can’t go to a domestic family with kids then?
A. We wouldn’t rehome a dog as a family pet. Police dogs are the same as any other dogs and their temperament has to be judged on an individual basis. Some are great with kids and can switch off at home and settle into family life, others are a little more ‘demanding’, shall we say, and sometimes need to be kept separate and only respond to their handler. This is becoming less common now because training techniques have changed and handlers are keen to socialise the dogs from an early age. We used to try to find dogs that owners struggled to control and use that drive to our advantage but now we have a very successful breeding scheme that is producing high quality dogs with the drive to work but they have also been socialised well from a very young age.
Q. How many dogs are currently working with the West Yorkshire Police? What sort of breeds do you deal with?
A. West Yorkshire currently has 27 general purpose dogs (GPDs), 13 Spaniels and 4 Labradors. GPDs are the German Shepherds and we also have two Belgian Shepherd Malinois dogs.
They are used for tracking people and property, searching buildings and public order duties at football matches or demonstrations. We also have several of these dogs trained to a higher level as Firearms Support dogs. These will assist the firearms teams with building and open area searches and are often first through the door to clear a room before officers enter. They offer an excellent way of safely searching an area and being able to give officers a “heads up” if someone is hiding. My retired dog, Kiro, was a Firearms dog and from working closely with firearms teams I know well that they really appreciate the work they do and being given that extra tactical advantage.
The spaniels are trained to search for drugs, cash and firearms and firearm components and really help to speed up searches of building and land. We used to have two “body dogs”, which were also Spaniels, and these were used to indicate blood and other bodily fluids. These both retired a while ago now.
We also have Labradors which we use as passive drug scanning dogs. These can be used in pubs, nightclubs, train stations etc to scan large crowds of people and indicate whether they are carrying drugs or have recently been in contact with them.
Last, but not least, we also have explosive detection dogs. These are also Spaniels. They’re used to search buildings and other areas, usually prior to a high profile visit, and they’re a great way of giving an early indication to any bombs or other devices that may have been planted.
Q. Could you give us a bit more info about and finally how we can become involved in the charity?
A. The charity has been set up by myself and Paul Wilcock. Paul is also the Force Chaplain and a Director at Huddersfield University and has worked closely with dogs all his life having competed with his previous dog, Tex, in civilian dog competitions. He is now the owner of Livvie (@Livviespage on Twitter) who was going to be used as a brood bitch for the breeding scheme. Unfortunately she wasn’t suitable so is now living happily with Paul and his wife Andrea.
We are also helped by Michaela Boryslawskyj, a solicitor from Huddersfield University who is our treasurer and trustee and also Sue Kilcoyne, a Professor of Biomaterials at Huddersfield University. Sue is another of our trustees.
And now we have Kay on board as our patron and we are really looking forward to how that can help the charity.
We are having our official launch day on Sunday 20th October at Nostell Priory near Wakefield. This will be a police dog competition with officers and their dogs from 5 different forces competing in obedience, agility and criminal work exercises. There will be various trade stands and entertainment there and we will be selling some merchandise for the charity.
We are having our official launch day on Sunday 20th October at Nostell Priory near Wakefield
Finally I managed to get a word from Patron Kay Burley, this is what she said;
“I was honoured when Duncan approached me to be Patron of FiresideK9. I’m a lifelong animal lover and have always had a huge respect for the work they do to keep us safe. I cannot believe there is no funding when they finish their working lives. I’m determined to help right that wrong.”
There you have it! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this interview. Indeed if you read their tagline, it says it all;
They’ve dedicated their lives to us, now it’s time to return that favour.