“Delta One to Comms... I've got a gunshot wound to the head... can you tell my boss that my dog is dead please.”
That infamous police radio message on July 13, 2010, made Christchurch Senior Constable Bruce Lamb a near-household name as Kiwis mourned the passing of his beloved police dog, Gage, and wished the dog handler a speedy recovery.
Bruce had been shot in the face by an offender who was set to fire again when Gage launched himself over Bruce and was fatally shot. It allowed time for Bruce to escape with his life.
However, 13 years later, while on a hunting trip with friends near Ashburton, Bruce had a fatal heart attack. The 63-year-old father-of-three had notched up 45 years with Police, after joining at the age of 18 in 1978, and had worked as a dog handler since 1987. His sons, Christopher and Michael, are also in Police.
Speaking at Bruce’s funeral, his younger son, Auckland Detective Constable Christopher Lamb, recounted the endless times his father told heroic tales of the frontline including that day in 2010: “In case you didn’t hear it every time you met him, Bruce got shot,” he said to a room that erupted into laughter.
Best mate Senior Sergeant Aaron Brady, deputy tactical commander at Southern STG, said that, despite Bruce being a “magnet for chaos” including being shot at multiple times, car crashes, scuffles and being chewed by police dogs, “after all of the horrendous situations [Bruce] survived, the thing that finally got him was the thing he hated the most – exercise”.
Speakers also recounted their fondness for the keen fisherman and hunter – his sarcastic humour, practical jokes and his grumpiness, blunt honesty and tendency to leave a meeting when he had had enough.
Bruce was one of Aotearoa’s longest-serving police dog handlers and received numerous medals, including gold and silver bars for bravery.
He received the PDSA Gold Medal for bravery on behalf of Gage in 2013. Aaron said Bruce was unique and loved being a dog handler. “He got to drive like a fighter pilot, attend all the best jobs, wind up all the offenders, mock everyone and then leave without having to do any of the paperwork.”
Aaron told Police News last month that, “Bruce was a larger-than-life character who people were drawn to despite his fondness for taking the piss out of anyone and everyone… [but] behind his humour and gruff exterior, Bruce was incredibly caring, supportive and aware of others, although he would deny it emphatically.
“On reflection, Bruce’s funeral was a true testament to him. The sheer number and scope of people who attended… [it] was an example of Bruce’s ability to bring people together. For someone who claimed he didn’t really like people, he clearly had something that drew people to him.”