Mason is quite possibly one of the most beautiful looking dogs I’ve ever seen.
His gorgeous coat of fur and friendly face as he eyed up his favourite toy were simply a sight to behold.
And although he knocked me back slightly when he jumped up for his ball, I didn’t mind too much.
Then I thought: “That’s when he was just playing.
“Imagine him running at me full pelt when he thinks I’m a criminal and he has more than fun on his mind.”
That’s because Mason is a police dog. And an enthusiastic one at that.
Weighing in at around 40kg and a set of skills that have been trained into him, he’s a match for anyone.
And I had the pleasure of seeing him in action as I joined Mason and his handler – as well as owner – PC Paul King for a few hours on one of their shifts.
I met up with PC King in Coventry and was introduced to not only Mason – a three-year-old German shepherd – but also his canine colleague Dash.
The two dogs were in the back of PC King’s specially-fitted police vehicle and while Dash just looked like he wanted to get out and play, Mason took one look at me and started barking.
PC King explained that Mason was simply showing his protection towards his handler, particularly as I was somebody new.
So out popped Dash to say hello – or I should say to run around as fast as he could while we talked about him.
And it was clear from the moment PC King started chatting that he loves his dogs more than anything.
PC King, 43, said: “I started [with the police] in 1997 and I knew it was working with dogs that I wanted to go towards, so I started doing puppy walking.”
From then on he’s gone on to have a number of police dogs – some of who now live at home with him in Coventry, alongisde his current furry partners Mason and Dash.
Once he’s told me all about the two of them – Dash being a four-year-old springer spaniel who he describes as “a proper daddy’s boy” and Mason – we jumped in the car and set out on patrol.
Within a matter of minutes the dog unit was deployed to Wood End to reports of a stolen moped.
I asked precisely what would happen when we arrived and was told that Mason would be searching for “any scent” he can find to help track the offenders or items that could be involved “forensically”.
When we arrived I was given my first glimpse of Mason out of the car – he was quite a fearsome sight and he made his presence known immediately with some booming barks.
Mason searched around some garages and PC King showed me how he searches and then indicates if he finds something with a human scent on it.
Alas, we didn’t find who had stolen the scooter, but I was able to see Mason in action (see video at top of story).
And undeterred, PC King told me: “I liken my role to that of a football striker.
“Some shifts you get everything going for you and you get everything done, but sometimes you get nothing.”
He added: “Sometimes there’s nothing better than to find an item that somebody thought they would never get back, but the dog did for them.”
Watch: PC Paul King introduces us to sniffer dog Dash
Part of the family
As well as being his partners in fighting crime, Mason and Dash are part of PC King’s family and live with him in Coventry.
He said: “I always integrate them in to the family. If I’m ill then I need someone who can look after them.
“I’m not going to let them down.”
PC King said that in their job he knows that danger – for him and his dogs – could be lurking just around the corner: “We know one day we might to put them in to a situation where they might not get back to the family.
“We wouldn’t do that to you (me – the reporter), but we might have to do that to them.”
He said he’s had dogs that have been kicked – including Dash – and even had their eyes gouged.
However, he explained that police dogs are seen as part of the officer’s equipment, like his vehicle is, and not an officer.
He said any damage to them would be classified as criminal damage.
He hopes there may be changes to the law incoming, however, that would change that outlook against his precious companions.
Dash is a drugs and firearms detection dog and he certainly has the nose for it.
PC King explained that if the capabilities of our sense of smell covered the size of a piece of A4 paper, then for Dash it would be the extent of an entire football pitch.
As well as dealing with searches – whether for drugs, weapons or suspect – the dog unit are involved in every kind of police activity, from bomb incidents and pursuits to public disorder.
And it isn’t just Coventry that PC King and co have to cover like a few years ago, he now has to cover the entire force area of West Midlands Police.
This can see them covering as many as 200 miles during a late shift.
Watch: Dash showing off his drug-finding skills
Getting the dogs ready
While the incredible canine officers don’t see chasing bad guys and sniffing out drugs as job, PC King still has to ensure that they are more than ready for the work ahead.
When asked if they needed to be of a certain temperament, he said: “It’s like people. If the fire service had 40 people going for jobs there, maybe only three would get picked.
“It’s not because the other 37 are bad people, it’s just about enhancing their natural abilities that are there.”
He said however that the one thing they can’t give a dog is courage.
“If they aren’t brave and we then put them out on the streets, that’s cruel, so we wouldn’t,” said PC King.
Police dogs usually retire at around eight years old, but sometimes up to 10 with the smaller dogs.
Another job came in and we were off to Gosford Green Park to reports of an assault by a gang.
The sirens were blaring as we zoomed down the A444 and we nearly hit 120mph.
Such speed is certainly something different to experience and it made me wonder how the dogs dealt with it.
PC King said that while Dash might not be entirely comfortable “he is still happy”, while Mason knows that the sirens being on means there’s “some fun coming up”.
More than a police resource
PC King told me that while people don’t come out to see police officers anymore, if there’s a dog around then the difference is clear for all to see.
He was right. On quite a few occasions people came out because, well, who doesn’t like seeing a cute dog and especially a police dog at that.
And we have to remember at the end of the day that they are incredible animals, but animals nonetheless.
Not a car or a piece of equipment. But beautiful, talented creatures who we live and work alongside every day.
So let’s hope that the law does get changed to give them more protection.
Because if anyone does injure a police dog – or even worse – it isn’t just criminal damage.
It’s a crime against everything that we should hold dear.