Just two weeks into the job and police dog Caesar was nearly stabbed to death by a Northland man. The terrifying encounter could have put the dog and handler Constable Josh Van Der Kwaak off a career chasing criminals.
But instead the near-death experience only strengthened the duo's bond and has seen them win the prestigious Erridge Cup, awarded to the New Zealand Police Dog Section's best rookie handler and dog in their first operational year of duty.
Constable Van Der Kwaak was "pleasantly surprised" to hear of his win.
"I'm fortunate to have a job I love and this award is an unexpected bonus," Van Der Kwaak said.
"My aim is to keep learning and achieving to the best of my ability."
In their first year as a team in Northland Caesar and Van Der Kwaak were dispatched to jobs 494 times.
They had 18 crime catches where, thanks purely to the skills of the handler and dog acting alone, they tracked and caught offenders who without them would not have been found.
A further 22 offenders were also apprehended and to top it off Van Der Kwaak also had 26 patrol catches, which were prepared for prosecution.
It was during a jury trial this year that Van Der Kwaak revealed the frightening details of the December 2018 attack on Caesar by Whangārei man Adam Tipene.
"Caesar jumped to engage the male's arm. As he jumped the male has begun stabbing him in the head, brutally stabbing at least three times," Van Der Kwaak said.
"He was essentially trying to do his job ... each time he is met with a knife. At that stage it looked to me like Caesar was being bludgeoned to death. I could see the force behind the blows and I didn't know if he was going to bleed out on the roof and die."
Tipene was finally arrested but Caesar had two stab wounds to the head.
The 20-month-old canine crimefighter was stitched up and x-rays showed no major damage especially around the eye area, and after passing a few tests the duo were back on the beat.
Tipene pleaded guilty to several charges including without reasonable excuse intentionally wounded a police dog after the Crown concluded its evidence. Tipene is scheduled to be sentenced in June.
The canine duo have since then quickly proved their worth.
Sergeant Bruce McLeod, officer in charge of the Police Dog Section in Northland, nominated the pair for the award which is judged nationally at the New Zealand Police Dog Training Centre, near Wellington.
"Constable Van Der Kwaak is regularly called on to assist frontline staff in the rural areas when staff are on leave and he takes pride in encouraging junior staff to target local offenders and targeted patrolling," McLeod said.
"He assists with the foster pups in the district and makes himself available to help with training and looking after pups when required, and is well-known for taking part in school dog displays, A&P shows and community events."
District Commander for Northland, Superintendent Tony Hill said it was an outstanding achievement and a great way to demonstrate the resilience of both the officer and his dog and the way they had bounced back from a stabbing which could have ended Caesar's career.
"I am proud that they are being recognised as being the best in the country for the first operational year."
And praise has come from the top of the dog handling section.
Inspector Todd Southall, national co-ordinator police dogs, said there were three excellent nominations received for the award and judging a winner was extremely close.
"Josh and Caesar's passion and contribution for their role has been evident with involvement in a wide range of successes and hard work."
Caesar's stabbing and efforts around this incident was also recognised with a District Commander's commendation.