Serving Northumbria Police horse and retired police dog sadly pass away after 15 years of service

Northumbria Police’s Dog and Mounted section have been left broken hearted, after two loyal service animals sadly passed away.

Serving police horse Penelope and retired police dog Russell died peacefully during the past week after a combined 15 years of service with Northumbria Police.

Penelope sadly passed away last week at the age of 14 after a short illness. Joining the force’s Mounted Section in 2019 at 10 years old Penelope made waves as the first mare recruited in 160 years.

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Formally named Bella, she underwent a stringent training programme before being fit for duty and went on to support frontline officers in policing large-scale events and tackling anti-social behaviour. Measuring 16.3 hands, the Clydesdale recruit lived with her four-legged colleagues at force stables in County Durham – and dedicated more than four years to policing.

Sergeant Stu Coates, of the force’s Mounted Section, said: “Penelope was without doubt the best police horse this force has ever had. She was brave, bold and courageous but patient and gentle when needed. While she was known for falling asleep on duty, she was always considered the leader of the section.

“When required, Penelope used to go in headfirst to get the job done, giving confidence to other horses. Her career highlights included policing various large-scale protests, attending countless football matches across the country, and proudly leading last year’s Remembrance Sunday Parade in Sunderland.

“She was also named as ‘Animal of the Year’ at the force’s annual Pride in Policing awards in 2021. Penelope really was one in a million and will be sadly missed by everyone.”

Meanwhile, retired police dog Russell sadly crossed the ‘rainbow bridge’ aged 14 at the start of the week. The Cocker Spaniel kickstarted his journey with the force as an eager pup back in 2009 and worked as an operational search dog for eight years alongside his best friend and handler, Sergeant Gav College.

This saw him regularly spotted at events such as the Sunderland Air Show and football stadiums including the Stadium of Light and St James’ Park. He also used his nose to search venues further away from home, including the Royal Albert Hall in the lead-up to the late Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday celebrations and the London 2012 Olympic Park.

And although Russell retired from operational duties, he was not quite ready to hang up his harness for good – and returned to work in 2018 at nine years old as the first Community Support Dog. This saw him attend events across the region with handler Sergeant Sally College and go to engagement opportunities with those hard-to-reach members of our community, in particular young people, those with disabilities and the elderly.

He officially retired from the role in 2020 and remained with both Gav and Sally as their much-loved pet.

His owner and former handler, Sergeant Sally College, said: “Russell was the most gentle-natured and loving dog – but also a manic search machine when in work mode, and he loved a tennis ball! A highlight for me during his role as a Community Engagement Dog was when Russell visited a dementia café where a gentleman took a shine to him, stroking him and smiling.

“His wife started to cry, saying it was the first time in two years that her husband, who had severe dementia, had shown any emotion and she was going to buy a dog!”

She added: “Russell was so switched onto people’s emotions and feelings. He knew instinctively if someone was not well or was having trouble reaching him – if this was the case, he would gently put his paws out to help them. It’s fair to say that Russell was a unique character who touched the lives of so many people during his life – we will miss him so very much.”

Police animals play a crucial role in not only the detection and prevention of crime – but in how officers are able to engage with their communities.

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