Meet police dog Russell as he wins hearts across Sunderland and South Tyneside in work to keep vulnerable safe
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Meet Russell the retired police explosives detection dog, who is embarking on a second career as a community hound.
Alongside his handler Pc Sally College and her workmate Nichola Strong, the 10-year-old cocker spaniel is approaching the first anniversary of his new role.
Working across Sunderland and South Tyneside, Russell and Pc College have visited countless schools and community groups to gain trust, forging friendships with those who would usually shy away from any police contact.
The Alzheimer’s Society's cafes in Sunderland, Hebburn and at The Nook in South Shields have welcomed him to events, while there are plans for a visit to Ashwood Care Home on Wearside.
Russell lives with Pc College, who spent six years with Northumbria Police’s dog unit, and her husband Sergeant Gavin College, who was the dog’s handler during his working years.
He is cared for without cost to the force, but the difference he has made to its work within communities is priceless as it pushes out life-changing information on issues such as hate and mate crime and champion a project which can help if a vulnerable person goes missing, known as a the Herbert Protocol.
More used to searching buildings in the past, the pooch – named after the Russell Foster League – has become accustomed to being fussed on his tours, with the march at Sunderland Pride on Sunday, September 29, on his list of events to attend.
Pc College said: “People want to come and speak to us and he’s helped break down lots of barriers.
“Some people try to avoid us or don’t want to speak to the police, but Russell came into retirement and through the support of senior management he became the first community engagement dog – he’s like our mascot.
“Russell demonstrates very different behaviour with different people.
“With one man in a wheelchair, he sat still and just knew that’s what he needed to do.
“The first time we took him along to the Alzheimer’s Society, he jumped up into the lap of one man and his wife said it had been the first time he had smiled in two years, because he loves dogs.
“He has made a real difference.”
Among his success stories is his bond with Vikki Haytack, 31, who attends Sunderland People First (SPF) in Leechmere, which works to improve the lives of those with learning disabilities and autism.
Pc College added: “The biggest change we have seen is with Vikki.
“She didn’t trust the police and really didn’t like dogs, and now you can see her cuddling Russell and she’s fine with me and Nichola in our uniforms, and it’s just an example of how Russell can break down those barriers.”
Vikki, from Murton, added: “Russell is so good and he’s so gentle.
“He’s helped me by taking the time with me and he’s helped make friends with Sally and built by confidence up.
“I feel calm, I’m not on edge and chilled when he’s around.”
Nichola, another of the force’s community engagement officers, added: “He’s been such an asset to us.
“Having him around totally changes the atmosphere, it’s more relaxing and he does a fantastic job in helping people have confidence in the police.”
Andrew Fox, a development worker with SPF, said the team’s hate and mate crime training, backed by funding, was making a real difference to its members.
He added: “Some people don’t feel safe in our communities, and this is giving them the confidence to feel safe where they live, to know what to do if they don’t or fi they feel anxious and this work with Northumbria Police has really helped raise awareness.
“They have helped get really important messages across.”