Dog handler honoured with top award
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PC Darren Sewell has been awarded the Thin Blue Paw Special Recognition Award. Darren bravely fought stage 4 cancer in 2020, whilst training his new police dog Jura.
PC Darren Sewell has been a frontline officer for 22 years, including 16 years as a dog handler and firearms support handler, and four years working as a dog trainer within the dog unit.
He cares for his own two dogs – PD Jura and PD Gilly – as well as helping to 'run on' puppies for neighbouring forces. “I’m dog crazy and all I ever wanted to do was be a dog handler,” PC Sewell said. “I absolutely love it. I love being with my dogs and watching them develop and transform; there’s nothing like it.”
PC Sewell, who lives with his partner, Alison, was working his experienced general purpose dog, German Shepherd PD Gilly and bringing on his new 12-week-old puppy, Jura, when his world was shattered in April 2020 with a life-changing cancer diagnosis.
“I was poorly over Christmas in 2019 and couldn’t shake it,” he said. “When I had a persistent cough for months I went to see the doctor and, finally, in April, went for a chest x-ray. I didn’t think it would be much so when the doctor called me the next day to tell me he’d found a tumour in my lungs it came completely out of the blue. It was such a shock.”
Further tests revealed PC Sewell had Stage 4 blood cancer which had spread to his chest, lungs, liver and hip, and started intensive treatment the following month.
“It was right in the middle of Covid and the doctors told me I’d have a hell of a fight to overcome it but they were all fantastic and really looked after me,” he added.
PC Sewell was signed off work while he underwent chemotherapy and shielded during the pandemic. His retired police dog, RPD Stella; pet Labrador Marley; and serving police dog German Shepherd Gilly – who has since retired – were by his side throughout his treatment.
“Gilly and I had worked together for six years, he was my partner in crime and now he was my therapy dog during treatment,” PC Sewell said. “He stayed with me throughout the treatment. The dogs were unbelievable; I was in tears when I thought I had to give them up after my diagnosis so I was so glad when Gilly was able to stay with me.
“Having him here with me and getting out to walk him has helped my treatment, health and recovery hugely. My world had been turned upside down and I couldn’t do anything else because of Covid but the dogs gave me some normality.”
After just eight weeks together, PC Sewell was forced to give up Jura – now 20-months-old – to another handler to bring him on while he focused on his health. The two have now been reunited and embarked on their initial training course.
He said: “Jura gave me a focus and a distraction; he was my drive to get back to full health and back to work. He’s the first puppy I’ve had from the very start and I’d always wanted to have a pup that I could train, develop, bring on and then follow through with them to license and work together.”
PC Sewell was dealt an extra blow when his retired police dog, Stella, and his Labrador, Marley, died just three weeks apart. He’s now taken on a new 10-week-old Labrador puppy called Jasper.
Today (14 September) PC Sewell receives the special recognition award at the inaugural Thin Blue Paw Awards – supported by Animal Friends Insurance – at Knebworth House. The award celebrates an individual who has made a significant impact to the police dog community within the UK and PC Sewell was chosen specially by the founders of the Thin Blue Paw Foundation.
PC Sewell - who finished treatment in September 2020 and was finally given the all-clear to return to work in August - said: “I was very shocked when I found out about this award; I had a lump in my throat!"
Kieran Stanbridge, co-founder of the Thin Blue Paw Foundation – a national welfare charity supporting and celebrating working and retired police dogs – said: “Darren is a truly inspiring man who has been an incredibly committed police officer, a valuable dog handler and trainer, and a brave individual despite everything that’s been thrown at him. He showed incredible courage to undergo intense treatment while also caring for his own dogs, continuing to train Jura and preparing to return to duty.
“We’re thrilled that PC Sewell’s treatment has gone so well and he’s now back at work, and we’re delighted to present him with this award which acknowledges his dedication to his job, to the force and to his community, despite his own personal and health challenges.”
Chief Constable Simon Cole QPM said: “All of us at Leicestershire Police are delighted to see Darren receive this special recognition award. His personal journey has impacted on many people, especially as it has coincided with the pandemic and lockdown. It is good to see what he has achieved being acknowledged by the Thin Blue Paw judging panel in this way.”