15 Mar 2017

Remembering past police dogs

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:22 pm on 15 March 2017

The police are unveiling a Wall of Remembrance, in honour of the 24 police dogs who have been killed on duty since 1972.

Police dog training

Police dog training Photo: RNZ

Deputy Commissioner Viv Rickard and former police dog handler and Associate Justice Minister Mark Mitchell unveiled the wall on Wednesday afternoon. Senior constable Bruce Lamb's dog, Gage, died after being shot in 2010.

On 13 July 2010, officers were following up another call-out by doing some routine doorknocking on Christchurch’s Buccleugh Street. Officers entered a house after noticing a strong smell of cannabis when the door was opened.

Lamb says he opened a door at the end of the hallway, where a man was standing with a firearm. Lamb was shot in the jaw and was knocked to the ground.

“As I turned to look towards him, he was leaning over the top of me to shoot me a second time with the firearm and Gage leapt across me and attacked him. Unbeknown to me he got hit in the middle of the back with the bullet that was meant for me.”

The bullet went through Gage’s heart.

“Without him I would have been shot a second time and probably wouldn’t be here,” Lamb says.

Gage, who trained as an AOS dog and had been working with Lamb for five years, responded in a way it is hoped all police dogs would, he said.

“But to put him under that much pressure… the alpha male being on the ground, a situation he’s never been in before… shots being fired… for him to respond and step up and protect me, he was just spectacular.”

Lamb’s jaw was “blasted to pieces”, requiring a year’s recovery and multiple surgeries, while another officer was shot in the thigh.

The offender was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Gage was awarded with People's Dispensary for Sick Animals gold medal, seen as the animal equivalent of the Victorian Cross.

He says he owes Gage his life.

“He was absolutely fantastic. It’s nice to see him honoured along with dogs like Gazza, Josh’s dog who was recently shot in Wellington. It’s nice to see them honoured today, plus the dogs from the past.”

Despite initially saying he was unsure if he would return to frontline police dog handling again, Lamb now works with a black Labrador named Mylo, specialising in narcotics and explosives.

“Being able to talk about it amongst your colleagues makes something like that a lot easier. It was a bit of a shock, I don’t think any of us expect to be shot.”