A trainee dog handler who claims he was fired after 34 years for refusing to be “cruel” to his animal has won an unfair dismissal payout.
Devastated David Ormsby says suffered “15 months of hell” at the hands of his employers because he refused to PUNCH and CHOKE his canine companion.
The long-serving border agent said he was branded a “sissy” and removed from his role just one week before he was due to complete his training.
David, 51, claims he treated his dog Buddy with more affection than his fellow trainee officer, who would regularly ”physically abuse” them.
An Employment and Discrimination Tribunal ruled in his favour, confirming that he was unfairly dismissed, and awarded him nearly #15,000 in compensation.
Describing how he clashed with his colleagues, he said: “I didn’t agree with their working style, or the punishments they dished out to the dogs if they did anything wrong.
“On one occasion a dog urinated in the airport office, on the carpet, and this officer punished him in a completely disproportionate manner.
“He picked up the dog by its harness, punched the dog in the head, and shook him violently up and down while holding onto the back of the harness.
“Then he threw the dog across the room to the exit, before going over to him, picking him up again, and throwing him into the hallway.
“On another occasion the officer was leaning forward and the dog looked up and licked his face, and the officer lashed out and punched the dog, and the dog went reeling across the room.
“I told him that it was completely inappropriate, and that I would refuse to do anything like that to my animal.”
David lives in St Lawrence on the Channel Island of Jersey with his artist wife Clare, 43, daughter Emilie, 24, son Matthew, 22, and 11-year-old twins Toby and Finlay.
He had worked as a customs officer for Jersey Customs for 34 years but in 2013 he decided to apply for the role of trainee dog handler.
David was accepted onto the course, and set about completing six months of intensive training, split into two sections.
The first section is described as ‘proactive’, and focusses on searching baggage, cars, or other unoccupied spaces, and David passed with flying colours.
He then became a licensed proactive dog handler, was put in active duty in his new role, and developed a special bond with Buddy.
But he clashed with another proactive dog handler, and a trainer from the UK over their animal cruelty as they were trained to teach their dogs through positive reinforcement.
David said: “I told them I would never act like that, and we had an argument, and I said there is no way I would treat my dog in this cruel way. Then they started calling me a sissy.”
David then embarked on the last part of his training, but said he felt immediately felt victimised.
David said: “The trainer told me one day to get my dog in the down position, and to demonstrate he grabbed the dogs collar from underneath and twisted it to choke the dog, and he immediately went down.
“I told him that I wasn’t happy with it, and asked if there was another way.
“He then said there was, and got a biscuit out of his pocket and put his hand on the floor, and the dog went down.
“There is absolutely no reason why you have to be cruel or inhumane to a drugs dog.
“They have to be treated differently from a pet, and there are rules and regulations, but the training techniques have to be humane, there is no call for dog punishment.
“There was another occasion, where the trainer and the officer had been out drinking the night before, and when they turned up for work in the morning they were both still intoxicated.
“They were both so rough that they cancelled all the training for the day. The way they acted was completely unacceptable.”
David carried on with his training, but was called into a meeting a week before his final assessment.
He said: “I went to a meeting, and my trainer told the managers that I would not pass the test, and they sided with him.
“They said that because the trainer thought I wouldn’t pass the test, I was off the program. I couldn’t believe it.”
David later attended a review hearing and they took his dog away and he was was dismissed by the head of Jersey customs.
He said: “It broke my heart to have my dog taken away from me, I had cared for him 24 hours a day for six months. It was devastating, and still is.”
David was fired in March but this was then retracted due to ‘procedural inconsistencies’ and he was put on gardening leave pending a capability hearing in May.
It was then ruled that there were ground for his dismissal and he was put onto a ‘redeployment policy’ to find him an alternative role.
David asked for his job handler’s role back but an assessor sides with the trainer he was in dispute with and this was refused.
After a number of appeals his contract was finally terminated on Christmas Eve.
“After they dismissed me I was never offered another job,” he said.
“My problem is that I was never assessed with the dog, if they tested me then failed me as I wasn’t competent I would accept it, but I have never been given the chance to prove my skills.”
Unsatisfied with the conclusion, David brought the case before the Jersey Employment and Discrimination Tribunal, which ruled in his favour – awarding him #14,527 in compensation.
David said: “I feel vindicated but the price for that is I’m out of work, and I haven’t got my dog.
“I can hold my head up high; the amount of support I have had from the public and serving customs officers has been phenomenal. It’s that support that will help me and my family to move on with this.
“It’s all being about justice, I feel like justice has been served.
“These have been 15 months of hell for me, my wife and my children. It has had a massive financial impact, but also an emotional and psychological one. It has been horrific.
“The stress of this has been phenomenal.”
In its judgement, the tribunal said: “To allow the applicant to take the test would have proved beyond doubt whether or not he was capable of being a dog handler.
“Given the importance of the test and the fact that it was less than two weeks away, the decision to deny the applicant to prove his worth was fundamentally flawed.”
The tribunal panel did not comment on Mr Ormsby’s claims about dog cruelty.