The Saddest Day
Saying goodbye to a great partner and a great friend
For the past seven years, Constable Howard Rutter has worked with a very loyal partner, Police Service Dog (Badge #9755) Nitro.
A bond existed between the two partners built on mutual trust and respect, and the knowledge that they would always look out for one another. It was a bond so strong and lasting that only death could break it. “He was not only my partner, he was my best friend,” Cst. Rutter points out.
Sadly, on the night of January 23, 2006, Nitro died in the line of duty, doing what he always did best, catching the bad guy.
If the bond between Cst. Rutter and Nitro was no ordinary bond because Nitro was no ordinary dog. Born in Monroe, Washington in 1997, this purebred German Shepherd came to the department as a puppy without a name. His handlers decided to appeal to the children of Vancouver to help them name this newest member of the department. It was the first time the public was asked to participate and the response was immediate and impressive. More than 2,000 children sent in suggested names. Soon PSD 9755 would be known as Nitro.
While police dogs are normally trained to bring down a suspect by clamping on his arm, Nitro, being tenacious and unwilling to let a suspect escape, would sometimes take the target closest to him... an ankle. It was a technique that was very effective, as hundreds of criminals over his career could testify.
There were also plans recently to make Nitro better known among the public. He and his partner have been featured in advertising posters designed to combat car theft in a campaign sponsored by the Insurance Corporation of B.C. It is a fitting, if unplanned, tribute to a valuable member of the VPD.
Nitro became a full-fledged police dog in 1999 and began a career distinguished by his hard work and bravery. Throughout his career he would also be the constant companion of his only partner, Constable Howard Rutter.
“We spent all shift with each other and when I went home he came with me. When I went to the store he came with me, I mean we did absolutely everything together…to say I’m going to miss him doesn’t begin to describe my feelings.”
Together they were a hard team to beat. Many calls over the years were like the one in October 2002, when they were called to the 3600 block of Trinity Street because four males were breaking into cars. When they arrived the trail was already 20 minutes cold. Nitro put his nose to the ground and started to track. City block after city block he followed the trail. Twelve blocks later he found them breaking into another car. They ran when they saw the dog, but Nitro gave chase and clamped onto a suspect who dragged him for another block. Nitro never let go until the suspect was safely in custody.
Like all great partnerships, things didn’t always run smoothly.
“There were so many times that I would be frustrated with Nitro and get mad at him, but all it took was him coming over and licking my face and all would be well again.”
But on the night of January 23, tragedy would strike and all would never be well again.
Shortly after 10 p.m., Rutter and Nitro were heading towards a stolen car that was being followed by police into New Westminster.
New Westminster police were notified and tried to stop this car with spike belts, but the driver was able to manoeuvre around it. Rutter and Nitro were directly
behind the stolen car when it came up to a train that was stopped on Front Street blocking it from going through.
The car thieves then tried to get away on foot. Cst. Rutter grabbed Nitro and sent him on these two. One of the suspects jumped up onto a box car with Nitro in hot pursuit. Nitro grabbed him by the leg and hung on, as he has done with other criminals hundreds of times before. This time, however, the unthinkable happened; the train started to move.
Nitro was swept under the moving train and was killed immediately. Cst. Rutter watched helplessly as his partner was trapped under the train. There was nothing anyone could do for him.
The man Nitro had a hold of was able to run off. The area was contained and searched over and over again by police officers and a New Westminster dog handler. Some hours later, a 26 year old man came out of his hiding place in the water amongst the reeds and as taken into custody. But Cst. Rutter still faced a difficult task.
“The toughest part was having to break the news to my daughter and son. They’ve both known Nitro just about all their lives and were so attached to him,” said Cst. Rutter.
The loss of Nitro was also a serious blow to the members of the Vancouver Police Department and especially to the dog handlers who regularly rely on their partners to protect their lives. A loss made even sadder by the fact that Nitro was due to retire this year in June.
“I always knew that when we were on any call, he would always be there watching my back.”
Nitro will join the honour roll of VPD members who over the years gave their lives so that others might live in safety, but for Constable Rutter the loss will always be more personal.
“What a lot of people don’t realize when they see us working is that Nitro wasn’t just a member of the police department, he was a member of the family.”