It was an unusual start to the January meeting of Eglingham WI. Normally our visiting speaker waits patiently while we conclude our business section before it is their turn to take centre stage.
This Thursday evening, however, our star guest let us know they were outside by the occasional bark.
Paul Bateman has worked at Northumberland Prison for many years, the majority of those as a dog handler. He kindly came along to tell us about this important work.
He began his talk by giving us a detailed background to the work he does.
As well as a dog handler, Paul is required to help in other duties of prison life.
These involve taking prisoners to hospital, carrying out drug raids, frequent searches for mobile phones and the making of banned alcohol or illegal ‘hooch.’
Sometimes it is necessary to search for arms and explosives using other specially trained dogs. Occasionally Paul has had to attend assaults on staff and hostage situations.
It is an environment about which most of us know so little, but it is more fascinating because of this.
It was shocking to see hand-made weapons made from everyday objects such as toothbrushes and plastic cutlery.
These had been naturally confiscated but were kept in a safe display case which Paul brought along.
We were also able to see and feel the protective clothing, helmets and other gear used for self defence against fires and chemicals as well as attack.
We were given explanations of the various truncheons and batons as items used for defence and restraint.
The highlight of the evening came when Paul brought his dogs into demonstrate their skills (and of course his as trainer and handler).
Firstly there was Barney, a seven-year-old Labrador who showed us his talent for finding drugs by body searching.
Earlier some drugs, used specifically for demonstration and training purposes, had been planted on Catherine by Paul (with her approval).
As Barney went from one member to another, his reaction to finding the drugs was amazing.
He stood perfectly still and stared at Catherine’s pocket until rewarded by praise from Paul.
Secondly in came Phil and an 18-month-old cocker spaniel.
He delighted everyone with his excitement and his little backward dance which he performed when he found the drugs which Paul had hidden in a bag on the floor.
His reaction could not be mistaken.
He was rewarded by Paul throwing a ball exactly at the spot where the drugs were found.
This kept him entertained for the rest of the talk (and Catherine busy playing with him).
After his talk, Paul had to work even harder for his supper by judging the competition, appropriately entitled dogs (any medium). This was won by Christine Yeaman and the raffle by Anne Baglee.
The next meeting is February 13, at 7pm, in the village hall.
Our speaker that night will be Sandra Carrott and is entitled Creating a Buzz in the Garden.
We will find out how bees are now faring and how we can help locally.
The competition is anything cooked with honey. Visitors are most welcome.