A police dog killed when he leapt into the path of a bullet intended for his wounded handler receives the ultimate international honour for his bravery and sacrifice from veterinary charity, PDSA, at a ceremony in New Zealand.
New Zealand police dog, Gage, paid the ultimate price to save his handler’s life and has now been posthumously awarded the PDSA Gold Medal, recognised worldwide as the animals’ George Cross – the highest honour for ‘civilian’ bravery. It is only awarded to animals that are instrumental in saving human or animal life when its own life is in jeopardy or through outstanding devotion to duty.
On 13 July 2010, Senior Constable Bruce Lamb and his five-year-old German Shepherd dog, Gage, were called by colleagues to assist at a house in Christchurch, Canterbury, as backup for what was believed to be a routine drugs search. One suspect had already been apprehended, while another had retreated into a bedroom. It was Senior Constable Lamb and Gage’s job to gain entry to the room and arrest him.
Recalling the fateful day, Senior Constable Lamb says: “I shouted out ‘police’, and carefully pushed open the bedroom door. Gage, as always, was close by my side, alert and ready for action. The room was in darkness, but as I entered I could see the shadow of a person just in front of me. All of a sudden I saw a flash and a bullet hit me in the face.”
The impact of the bullet shattered Senior Constable Lamb’s jaw and he fell to the floor. With Gage at his side and the offender behind him, Senior Constable Lamb looked back to see a rifle pointed directly at him.
“I was about to be shot again, and probably killed, when Gage suddenly leapt into action,” remembers Senior Constable Lamb. “I felt him jump and launch himself over me. As I felt his paws pushing on my back, a second shot was fired.”
Despite his serious injuries, Senior Constable Lamb managed to escape from the room with Gage while the suspect shot at other officers. It was only once they were safely outside that he became aware that something was seriously wrong with Gage.
“I looked down to find Gage lying motionless in the middle of the street,” recalls Senior Constable Lamb. ”At that moment I realised that the bullet fired, intended for me, had in fact hit and killed my faithful companion.”
Due to his serious injuries, Senior Constable Lamb was forced to leave Gage’s body where he had fallen, while he was rushed to hospital for emergency medical treatment. A second Police Officer, Constable Mitch Alatalo, was also shot and injured.
Commenting on Gage’s heroic story from the UK today, PDSA’s Director General, Jan McLoughlin, said:
“When I first heard about what happened in Christchurch it struck me that, as the horrifying events unfolded, Gage must have been just as terrified as his human colleagues. Despite it ultimately costing his life, Gage continued to perform his duty and protected his handler, an act of bravery that epitomises the unique bond between man and dog, which should never be underestimated.
“The PDSA Gold Medal is only awarded for the most extreme acts of courage and dedication. Gage’s actions and sacrifice on that day undoubtedly saved the life of Senior Constable Lamb. He is an exceptionally worthy recipient.
“I’m often asked why people treat animals as members of the family, and sometimes people question what animals contribute to society; Gage’s actions answer that question better than I ever could.”
Speaking at today’s presentation in Christchurch, Canterbury, Senior Constable Lamb said: “Gage was a strong and unique dog, and had been by my side constantly since joining the police. The thing I regret most about that day, even though it was outside of my control due to my injuries, was having to leave him on his own after he had laid down his life for me. Today’s presentation is not just recognising Gage’s sacrifice: it’s also about honouring his life and courage. I’ll forever be indebted to him.”
Gage’s name now joins a list of 22 other animal heroes who have previously been awarded the PDSA Gold Medal. Each individual story of bravery and devotion is a reminder of the vital role animals play in society.
Other recipients include UK police explosives search dogs Vinnie, Jake and Billy for their lifesaving work in the aftermath of the 7/7 terrorist bombings in London, in 2005. Most recently, Spanish civil guard dog, Ajax, was honoured in June 2013 for his work detecting an ETA bomb during a terrorist campaign on the island of Majorca.
Senior Constable Bruce Lamb’s jaw bone was shattered into 15 pieces by the bullet that struck him. He has since returned to front-line policing with his a new police dog, a black Labrador named Mylo.