A dream job turned into a nightmare for dog handler PC Dave Wardell one night in October 2016.

A routine callout to Stevenage, with his trusty German Shepherd Finn, escalated when the suspect they were chasing stabbed Finn.

But were it not for Finn’s incredible instincts, Dave would have come away from the incident with far worse than just a cut hand.

“It was a shift like any other,” recalls Dave, 41, of Buntingford. “Eventually we were called to a job that was little more than what we could call a ‘suspicious incident’.

“We knocked on the door that a taxi firm had been called to, to take someone back to south London.

“The firm called us because they thought it was odd, and a driver had already been robbed that night.

“As the officers in front of me were about to put a knock in, all hell broke loose.

“I took Finn out, because it was clear something was going very wrong.

“We then heard the sound of someone fence jumping – music to a police dog handler’s ears, because it’s where we come into our own.”

Dave and Finn chased the youth down the street, with Dave spotting what looked like a police-style baton – something a witness in the earlier taxi robbery had mentioned.

Eventually they cornered the suspect against a fence, where Finn pulled him down, rolling the boy onto his back.

“I was literally about to say to the lad what I needed him to do to make Finn let go,” recounts Dave.

“Then, he starts pulling this thing out of Finn’s chest, and it keeps coming and coming and coming.

“Whilst I’m still trying to compute that, he’s then thrust towards me.

“Finn gets in the way of the threat, which is now heading towards my face and neck, over the top of his head.

“He gets in the way of that and undoubtedly saves my life.”

For his brave efforts, Finn had the top of his head sliced open, while the only injury Dave sustained was a cut to the hand.

Finn was seriously injured but, nonetheless, lucky: had the knife struck one centimetre to the left, it would have gone straight to his heart and killed him instantly.

“The vet described him as the luckiest unlucky dog he’s ever met,” says Dave.

Finn’s fighting spirit was matched in his recovery, as he returned to work just 11 weeks after the incident.

He went on to represent his force in the regional dog trials just before his eighth birthday in March last year, when he retired from service.

The Stevenage incident hit Dave hard, but he took solace in Finn’s company as the pair recovered together.

“Imagine your best friend being stabbed in front of you. It would be the worst thing you could ever witness,” he said.

“I struggled with post-traumatic stress as a result of what I saw and what happened to Finn and of course what happened to me as well.

“Finn went from being my police dog that night to being my therapy dog. His recovery and his company, and watching him get stronger and better again, really did help my mental recovery.

“My physical injuries were next to nothing, certainly compared to Finn’s, but my mental injuries were huge. I couldn’t sleep, I had a rotten time.”

Dave channelled his emotional story into a blog, which was quickly picked up by a publisher. And ‘Fabulous Finn: the Brave Police Dog who Came Back from the Brink’ was released earlier this month to widespread acclaim.

Now, Dave wants to go one better and honour Finn personally with a Crufts nomination in the Extraordinary Life of a Working Dog category of the Friends for Life awards.

“To even be nominated is amazing but if we were lucky enough to get through to the final shortlist it would be absolutely mind-blowing, to share his story with so many more people as well.

“It would be absolutely enormous.”

Friends for Life is a celebration of just how much dogs change and improve people’s lives. Five of the finalists will go to the 127th edition of Crufts – where every dog has its day – held once again at the NEC in Birmingham, where the winner will be announced on Sunday, March 11.

People can vote for the dog they want to win by visiting the Crufts website, with the victor receiving £5,000 from the Kennel Club Charitable Trust to donate to a dog charity of their choice and runners-up £1,000.