Police dog pioneer passes away

BOND: Harold Surgenor (middle) with his first dog Axel one and his son Carl (right) in 1958. Axel one was his first dog and the second ever trained in New Zealand. PHOTO: NZ Police

Harold Thomas Surgenor, a pioneer of how police dogs are used now, has died aged 86.

Mr Surgenor’s wife Ruth said he was one of the first officers in the country to push for the use of dogs in the police, highlighting their versatility and ability to perform many of the tasks police dogs are used for today.

Mr Surgenor, who lived in Ryan St, Linwood, for many years, passed away suddenly in
his Ilam home on January 16.

Canterbury district commander Superintendent John Price said his legacy lives on in the important role police dogs play in today’s society.

“We owe him a debt of thanks. He set up what we now have and we will forever be grateful to him,” he said.

“Now we have dogs that do all manner of things like searching out drugs, money, bombs and a whole range of other uses.”

A retired police sergeant, Mr Surgenor was one of the first officers to train a police dog in New Zealand after he picked up Axel One from Trentham, Upper Hutt, in October 1956.

The pup was born on a boat coming from England and was selected by Mr Surgenor over one that was partially trained because he wanted a fresh dog to work with.

Another of his colleagues, Colin Guppy, of Wellington, took the partially trained dog to become the first dog handler in the country.

Mr Surgenor had three dogs during his career – Axel One, Axel Two and Axel Three.

But he was almost denied his dream job of becoming a police officer when he was told he was too small to join.

“He had to fill out as a young person and the police told him to do some manual work to get bigger. So he worked in a gold mine on the West Coast,” Mrs Surgenor said.

The couple met shortly after Mr Surgenor had joined the police in Wellington. They were due to mark their 63rd wedding anniversary next month. He spent time in the King Country and Wanganui chasing prison escapees, and was sometimes away for weeks at a time, Mrs Surgenor said. They moved from Wanganui to Ryan St in 1965.

Mr Surgenor was head of the police dog unit which covered most of the South Island.

His first dog, Axel One, was buried at the couple’s Ryan St property, Mrs Surgenor said.

Mr Surgenor was farewelled at a service in the Westpark Chapel, Burnside, which was attended by about 200 people.

“He was a dedicated and proud policeman,” Mrs Surgenor said.

“I was very proud to be his wife and the letters and emails detailing how respected he
was and admired in the police force have been incredible,” she said.