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Thursday 22 October 2015, 2:04 PM

A Gloucestershire based police dog has won the Public Service Animal of the Year Award 2015 at the Daily Mirror Animal Hero awards in London.

Stella, a 3 year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, is a Police Dog working with Gloucestershire Constabulary as part of Tri Force Specialist Operations. The collaborative unit provides specialist Firearms, Roads Policing and Dog response across the three Force areas of Avon & Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire.

Stella and her handler PC Claire Todd were nominated for the award earlier this year and travelled to London last night as one of the finalists for the award. Before leaving Claire said, “Stella and I are very excited about attending the Awards, as it’s an amazing experience coming in the top 3.”

They also appeared on Good Morning Britain when Stella displayed her unerring ability to find hidden cash.

Stella, who was found as stray in Taunton in Somerset, has  achieved numerous drugs finds in car and house searches across the south west, and this July sniffed out approximately £25,000 in cash hidden in a pile of clothes in a house in the Forest of Dean.

Claire and Stella were called in to support Trading Standards after money and a large quantity of illegal tobacco had been found by the search team.  It was vital to fully search the house and check that no cash had been missed. Stella homed in on the bedroom and behind a dog bed found the huge quantity of cash inside the heap of clothes.

Claire said:  “I was very proud of Stella as this cash was extremely well hidden  - without her amazing nose it would have been missed. Stella and I are very excited at winning the Award. It’s an amazing experience but all three of the ‘top dogs’ in the category would be worthy winners.” 

Stella’s ‘stellar’ police dog career took off after she was rescued by West Hatch RSPCA in Taunton.  Being high energy made her difficult to home as a pet, but they quickly realised she had the talent and determination to keep searching until she found tennis balls.  Police work seemed ideal for her so Sue Dix at West Hatch contacted Avon & Somerset Police.

Claire explained: “This was around the time my drugs dog Barney, a Springer Spaniel, was retiring so I needed a new dog to train. I put Stella through a set of tests and she passed with flying colours, which isn’t always the case. Some dogs just aren’t right for police work but Stella was ideal.” 

Claire teamed up with Stella in January 2014 for her training to find firearms, ammunition, drugs and both sterling & euro bank-notes. Thanks to her amazing ability to learn, she completed the normal 6 week course in just a month.

On her very first operational day she located £200 hidden in a bedroom drawer.  She has since then achieved numerous drugs finds in cars and houses.

Claire said “Stella proves that rescue dogs, especially Staffordshire Bull Terriers, can be amazing and talented dogs when properly trained and cared for, and they deserve a loving home.  Well done to West Hatch for getting in touch with us - people should always think of the police when they have a dog they find difficult to handle.”

Sergeant Geoff Blindell, Head of the Gloucestershire hub of the Tri Force Dog Section, said:

“We are all extremely pleased for Stella and Claire. It is a team effort and this award is a tribute to Claire’s hard work and dedication and also to our training department who train our dogs to such a high standard. Tri Force are immensely proud of the Team - as we are of all our dedicated dogs and handlers who are on patrol 24/7 in the Gloucestershire, Avon & Somerset and Wiltshire Force areas”.

Perhaps Stella should have the last word:  “I've had a great time at the Awards - celebrating late into the night - thank you everyone - I'm feeling a bit 'ruff' this this morning!”

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