Paws for reflection on hard work as PD Flash graduates from training
Written by Jane Lythgoe on 29 November 2020
It’s all smiles for PC Luke Hardern and PD Flash as they officially begin their time as a crimefighting duo with Staffordshire Police.
Yesterday (Friday 27 November), the pair were at Staffordshire Police HQ in Stafford to receive their certificates for completing their training before starting their first shift together.
Flanked by ARV/Dog Support Unit Sgt James Bream and Chief Superintendent Elliott Sharrard-Williams, PC Hardern and PD Flash were presented with their awards – PD Flash’s welcoming him as a Service Animal under the Animal Welfare (Emergency Services) Act 2019 (Finns’ Law).
“It’s been a long time coming,” admits PC Hardern, after a rugby injury robbed him of the chance to graduate a year earlier.
But had that happened, then PD Flash would currently be posing for photographs with another handler beaming with pride and these two would never have been able to grow their bond.
PD Flash, who was born in Austria and turns two in January, has been undergoing intensive training alongside PC Hardern over the past couple of months.
And 28-year-old PC Hardern, who lives in Leek, says it has been an intense time bringing his four-legged partner up to speed.
“It’s tough, training Monday-to-Friday over 10 weeks,” he said. “But it’s what the dogs need. They need the repetition to bring them up to the standard to do their job effectively.
“We’ve been training everywhere from HQ to the Staffordshire Showground and out to Rugeley Power Station.”
For PC Hardern the original plan was to be standing here 12 months go with another dog, but then his rugby exploits put paid to that.
He’s an experienced player, a second row forward representing the British Police against the Army, Navy, RAF and touring sides such as PD Flash’s native Austrian national rugby team – who ‘got a national cap for playing against us, which was quite funny’.
His British Police exploits have taken him to New York, South Africa and most recently Argentina in May last year. But the Covid-19 pandemic has put paid to any fixtures being held this year, while PC Hardern would have had to miss them anyway after picking up his tough injury.
“I was originally on the course last September, but then I snapped my ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] playing for a local club,” he said. “I had to have an operation in March and that put me back to this September’s course.”
The course normally takes 13 weeks, but as PC Hardern had already done part of it in 2019 it was a bit shorter this time. The course finished last Thursday (19 November), and now the pair are raring to go.
And PC Hardern appreciates that delaying his training has given him the chance to build up the special bond he’s forging with PD Flash.
“We’ve got quite a bond already,” he says. “The dog lives with you, goes most places with you, and you spend a lot of time with them.
“It has to bond with the people you live with, and luckily he gets on well with my girlfriend. We’ve got a cockapoo called Bertie as well who’s two. He wasn’t so sure at first, but they’re okay now.
“It’s quite a commitment. He sleeps outside as he would normally, but he has to have a walk every day including your rest days.”
Ch Supt Sharrard-Williams was delighted to welcome another dog into the force. He said after the certificates were handed over: “It’s fantastic to have a new member of the team who from tomorrow will be finding the lost, protecting the innocent and confronting the dangerous.
“We recognise the start of their service and now we recognise the end of their service too. When they retire they get a certificate of service and this little medal and instead of the Staffordshire knot in the middle there’s a little pawprint.
“It’s a memento for the handler because we go home and we switch off from work but he never does that because the dog is with him 24 hours a day.”
PC Hardern began his career with Nottinghamshire Police in 2013 but two years later moved to his home county force. He has always worked in response units in the north of the county after starting off in Burslem. His new role will see him work across the south of the county for the first time and also realise a long-held ambition of working alongside animals.
“I’ve always been interested in dogs and animals in general,” he adds, “and I do some work on a farm in my spare time. I’ve wanted to do this [a dog handler] for a while but it’s hard to get on the course because you need a certain amount of experience.
“I guess if I hadn’t have gone into policing I’d have done something in farming. But that’s quite hard to get into as well if you don’t have the background.”
But picking the police as a career also sees him follow in the footsteps of his proud father Mark Hardern, one of the force’s Youth Violence Coordinators based with the Neighbourhood Command team at Longton.
“Growing up I always wanted to join the police,” PC Hardern admits. “And I also wanted to work outside and with animals. Now I am joining the new team I am doing just that.”