For the love of dogs
Matt Limb OBE meets a young Lincolnshire woman who has worked dogs all her life, including on military operations in Afghanistan.
The quiet but confident nature when you meet Jasmin, best known to everyone as Jazz, can be deceptive. Behind that reserved but happy smile is a person who has achieved so much in such a comparatively short lifetime, but throughout her life one common inspiration has always been there: her dogs.
It all started for Jazz as a young girl on the Cornish coast, where she went to the local village school with her younger sister Jade, in what many of us would describe as near idyllic conditions. Her father was the village postman and her mum ran the village garage and just up the road were her grandparents, Bob and Tish. And there was always a dog in the house.
Bob worked part-time as a gamekeeper in his retirement, he was by trade a carpenter and in his career had built boats, plus served in the Royal Navy during World War Two on minesweepers. More importantly he was a keen dog trainer, his favourite being English Springer Spaniels or Cocker Spaniels, which he worked on local shoots. As a young girl, Jazz followed him everywhere as Bob introduced her to shooting, fishing and the local hunt but above all training working gundogs.
Jazz was out with Bob from the age she started school, picking-up and beating. By the age of 8 she was working a dog picking-up; then at just 10 years of age, she won her first field trial. Sitting with her, Jazz admits she enjoyed school but was much happier outdoors and confesses she did bunk off to be out with the dogs and Gramps, as she affectionally called her grandfather. So, life moved on. For many of us it would have been regarded as perfect; shooting in the winter and fishing in the summer with dogs all year. But it was about to change and change beyond any expectation or belief.
That change started when Jazz was out picking-up with her English Springer Spaniel, Sweep, and met a former gamekeeper who was serving with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps. Clearly he had seen some talent in Jazz working her dog on the shoot and in no time Jazz was in the Army completing her basic recruits course, before a move to Leicestershire and the start of her trade training as a Protection Dog handler.
The Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC) was originally known as the Army Veterinary Service, founded in 1796 following public outrage concerning the treatment of Army horses and the lack of qualified veterinary surgeons. Today the RAVC trains and cares for dogs and horses, in addition to various regimental mascots. Its soldiers and officers now include veterinary surgeons and veterinary technicians providing medical and surgical care, plus handlers who train dogs and deploy with them on operations around the world.
After her training course Jazz joined the elite of today’s British Army dog handlers and followed in the footsteps of many famous handlers, wise in the knowledge that many working dogs in the RAVC have been awarded the prestigious Dickin Medal, often regarded as the Victoria Cross for animals (though sadly given posthumously to several dogs and handlers).
Soon Jazz was off to her first unit, then more training, this time in preparation for an operational tour of Afghanistan. Once in Afghanistan she worked day-to-day on the ground as part of an infantry battalion with a vehicle search dog called Dek, an English Springer Spaniel. Their role was to search vehicles, from cars to cargo-carrying trucks, for any contraband including weapons and ammunition. It was a busy seven months for Jazz and Dek before she returned home for a well-earned rest. But the rest did not last long as Jazz was soon back training; this time it was to qualify as a class one dog handler, followed by the IED (Improvised Explosive Device) detection course in preparation for a second deployment back to Afghanistan.
On this second tour Jazz had a new colleague, again an English Springer Spaniel, who by her admission was always busy. He was called Ronnie. Soon Jazz and Ronnie were out on the ground and were credited with finding IEDs, which are in simple terms homemade but highly effective bombs buried in the ground, sometimes in the walls of buildings, often remotely detonated as a vehicle or foot patrol of soldiers passes so as to cause maximum injury. It would be hard to know how many lives Jazz and Ronnie saved in the early part of that operational tour, but that all changed when they were in a vehicle moving from one area to another and went over a massive IED which detonated directly under their vehicle.
The vehicle took most of the blast, said Jazz, as she clearly remembers watching the heavily armoured doors being blown off and flying through the air and Ronnie thrown out of the top hatch of the vehicle. When she regained consciousness and crawled clear of what was left of the vehicle, she found Ronnie on his own, with no visible or traceable injuries, searching the immediate area around the wrecked vehicle. In the aftermath of the incident, it was found Jazz had two damaged vertebrae which resulted in recovery at Headley Court and a break from operational deployments.
At this time Jazz was selected to help with an Army trial of combining the skills of protection plus arms and explosive detection in a single dog. For Jazz, this brought a new dog into her working life, Titch, a Belgian Malinois, a breed that had grown in popularity for military working dogs around the world and is used by the American security services to protect The White House. Over the coming weeks and months, Jazz and Titch became inseparable as they gave countless demonstrations to show the capabilities of the breed as a multifunctional military working dog.
With time the incident and injuries in Afghanistan led to Jazz being unable to deploy on any future operational tours, but as she had no desire to be, in her words, ‘a stay at home soldier’ the inevitable happened and she left the Army after 10 years and a life she loved.
Chatting with her today she has no regrets and enjoyed her time in the Army, and accepts it was simply destiny that morning in Afghanistan that brought it all to such an abrupt end. But she has not said goodbye to all her army colleagues.
Jazz settled in Lincolnshire with Titch, who at the age of seven had a review and was discharged from the Army. Jazz took her on as a companion for life, but Titch is not the only dog that has found its way to a happy and well-earned retirement. Dek the English Springer Spaniel from her first tour of Afghanistan is also enjoying the quiet retired life with Jade, Jazz’s younger sister, back home in the same village in which they grew up together. As for Ronnie, he has now also retired despite his acrobatics with the IED in Afghanistan and is now living with one of his former handlers.
But there were some sad times too. As Jazz was leaving the Army, she lost Sweep, the spaniel that she worked as a young girl on local shoots with her grandfather. Sweep remained at home in Cornwall when Jazz joined up, first living with Gramps then later with her mum and dad.
It is hard to believe that a young woman still in her twenties can have packed so much into her life, but Jazz is not resting on her laurels. Speaking to her soon after leaving the Army, she admitted a longing and desire to continue working with and training dogs. This led to work with a company involved in the security of nationwide events, including major sporting events, where her skills came to the fore in searching stadiums. Soon after this, Jazz got married to Scott a fellow former Army dog handler. Soon the two of them worked together with a growing team of dogs they owned.
Today Jazz has worked her way through that same company to become a partner, with responsibility for the training division, where she delivers and oversees dog training from the everyday pet and its owner to the potential dog handler looking for a future career in security work.
As my time with Jazz came to an end, it came as no surprise when she told me she has also taken on another new dog, this time a young Black Labrador aged just nine weeks, called Jura. She intends to find time to train her more conventionally, as a working gundog, as she still has a desire to work on a shoot again, as she first did with her grandfather, whom Jazz admits was her greatest inspiration.
No one can deny that Jazz has had both a full and busy life and is not one to allow the weeds to grow under her feet. From a young girl at home helping her grandfather on his shoot, she has gone on to winning field trials and joining the Army, with two tours of Afghanistan, to settling and getting married in Lincolnshire and working her way to a partnership in a fast-growing company. But through all of this there is one common thread: her love and passion for working dogs, of all natures.