Northland gunman Quinn Patterson stabbed Bruce Howat 33 years ago and the former police dog handler is still living with the effects. In an exclusive interview, the former constable who now lives in Rotorua said the attack scarred him for life and ended his police career. In 2013 Howat wrote an account of that night in 1983. Here it is in his own words.

The phone rang at an inconvenient time. I had just sat down to the family dinner. It only rang for one purpose - a call-out.

The Sunday night of seven nights of shift was always welcome because it meant three days off. There were only two police dog handlers in Hamilton and we rotated, doing one week on night shift, on call all the time and hopefully the following week would be quiet to catch our breath. This particular week was rough with a couple of very narrow escapes on the job - close calls in the sense of personal safety being at risk, but that was part of the adrenaline rush of the job.

After answering the call, it was straight into the bedroom to throw on a uniform as fast as I could. My daughters loved it because they were allowed to go out and let Cara out of her kennel. Cara was a jet black German Shepherd and only the second bitch to become operational. She almost did not graduate because of her small stature.

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Former police dog handler Bruce Howat describes in his own words the 1983 knife attack by the man blamed for yesterday's Northland double shooting that ended his police career. Photo / Stephen Parker
Former police dog handler Bruce Howat describes in his own words the 1983 knife attack by the man blamed for yesterday's Northland double shooting that ended his police career. Photo / Stephen Parker

The girls would toilet run Cara while I was getting dressed. Seconds were precious if Cara and I were to have a chance at catching our offender.

The funny thing is after all these years I can't even remember what I was called out to. The girls knew Dad would even forget to say goodbye or goodnight, but they also knew no matter what hour of the night he came home, he would sneak into their bedroom and give them a gentle fatherly kiss on the forehead.

After the call-out I went to Hamilton Central Police Station.

I was slack at doing my paper work and never came close to enjoying it, so it was always left until Sunday night to do the week's paper work. The dog section office was on the first floor of the police station. It had a wonderful view from the window, looking down on the roof of the prison block.

Once you put one in there for the first time, I knew they were going to be a regular until they outgrew the silly life. Going to prison became a badge of honour that the average citizen could not comprehend.

Whenever I gazed at that roof, I would reflect that part of the job was filling that complex with official guests. It was a revolving/revolting door syndrome. I knew in my heart of hearts that the system was an abject failure. Once you put one in there for the first time, I knew they were going to be a regular until they outgrew the silly life. Going to prison became a badge of honour that the average citizen could not comprehend.

Reality struck home. The phone rang.

Operations: offender on premises in Garden Place in the central city. The adrenaline automatically kicks in and down the stairs; I fly, two to three at a time. It never paid to be in the stairwell during a call-out. I remember early in my career rushing out the door of the typing room at Wellington Central and bowling the Commissioner flat. He looked up from the floor and said, "Must be urgent. Don't stand their gawking at me, go and get them."

Into the basement, I flew and Operations had the garage doors open for me. Cara bolts upright and her tail thumps against the kennel walls with excitement. Her replacement, Wal sat up and like a human teenager muttered about being woken.

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The job was a fizzer. The offender overheard one of the radios that dogs were on their way. Tattoos weren't so fashionable then and I don't think he fancied ivory scars on his buttocks. I got Cara out at the scene anyway because a small crowd was gathering and her barking at everyone creates a funny sense of safety and security for them.

Northland gunman Quinn Patterson stabbed Bruce Howat 33 years ago, and Howat is still living with the effects. Photo / Linkedin
Northland gunman Quinn Patterson stabbed Bruce Howat 33 years ago, and Howat is still living with the effects. Photo / Linkedin

I chat to the boys for a few minutes and then remember that dreaded pile of paperwork. I lowered the back gate of the van so Cara wouldn't have to jump so high. A cold foggy, damp Waikato night did not mix well with her arthritis and hip displasia. As she slowly got into the vehicle, she looked at young Wal with a look that said, "It is a good, hard life, but I'm glad you are taking over soon." Wal had about six months more training before he would work the streets.

Returning to the station as I drove down Victoria St, I saw a young white guy, late teens, possibly early twenties, reasonably smoothly dressed for that hour against the wall of a building. My sixth sense was baseball batting me around the head - this young guy is up to no good. I pulled up alongside of him and saw the pen in his hand. It looked natural - someone who was used to these dangerous weapons. Don't underestimate the power and strength of a well-used pen. Their rabid cuts have inflicted lifelong wounds in many a soul.

One not-so-innocent-looking young guy armed with a pen and the obscenities. Blast. I didn't want the extra paperwork so I intended to give him a verbal flea in his ear and send him on his way, once he had binned the hats.

On the wall of the building were paper party hats with obscene graffiti written on them. One not-so-innocent-looking young guy armed with a pen and the obscenities. Blast. I didn't want the extra paperwork so I intended to give him a verbal flea in his ear and send him on his way, once he had binned the hats. He denied anything to do with the Shakespearian writing. Like I was born yesterday. His Canadian accent threw me a bit - he saw short and wimpy build. Nothing like what I was used to and my 6'1" made me look like a bit of a giant beside him.

A discussion ensued at the end of which he gave me the pen so I could do a comparison of the ink colours. As I started to scribble on one of the hats, he ran off down the hill. The dog van was rocking with Cara going nuts with her barking. "Boss, one is getting away!" I ran to the van and let her out as I saw our young man run across the intersection. I knew Cara was going to have problems because of her health but it was better than being on my own. I called out a couple of times for him to stop and guess what - he didn't.

The footpath was covered with low tree branches and the street lighting was almost nonexistent. I got occasional glimpses of this little character running down the hill. I knew when he got down to the bottom, darkness would be his friend and my enemy. As I expected Cara could not keep up. Her old weary bones just didn't operate like they did in her younger days.

Former police dog handler Bruce Howat describes the routine 1983 call-out with his jet black German Shepherd Cara that almost ended his life. Photo / Stephen Parker
Former police dog handler Bruce Howat describes the routine 1983 call-out with his jet black German Shepherd Cara that almost ended his life. Photo / Stephen Parker

I got to the bottom of the hill and darkness was victor. I had no idea where he had gone. A few moments later Cara arrived and quickly went to the bushes on my right and started to bark. I called on him to come out and got no response. I bent over to go into the bushes and that's when size is irrelevant. I was off balance going into darkness. He had grabbed me and pulled me down. Then he started to punch my upper left forearm. I remember thinking, don't you know anything about fighting; that is most of the most ineffectual places to hit someone. I couldn't believe this little runt of a person was trying to fight me. I lived, worked and breathed the streets; they were the blood in my veins, my reason for getting out of bed each day. A street fighter would never do this - they were too smart to take on someone with such a size advantage.

Then I smelt fresh blood. It made no sense. I had done nothing to make him bleed. Next, I became aware of a new sensation; warm hot blood against my flesh . . .

Then I smelt fresh blood. It made no sense. I had done nothing to make him bleed. Next, I became aware of a new sensation; warm hot blood against my flesh. As a Night Shift Dog Handler, I just wore a thin police jersey and regulation shirt. He must be bleeding very badly for it to come through my clothes.

I was angry and annoyed that this little twerp was causing so much bother over a few party hats. Did he have any idea how much paperwork was ahead of me when I got him back to the station - inconsiderate bugger!

On the street corner, the only street lighting bounced around in the tree branches and leaves creating an erratic symphony of light. In one movement, I got a glimpse of the blade of his knife. If anyone tells you they have stabbing pains, take it from someone who knows; they have no idea what they are talking about.

The irony did not escape me of how close I was to the station, this would be one of my smaller offenders, and I was going to die on the roadside beside him.

The knife quickly and silently entered my body, once again. Now I knew why he was fighting as he was. It never registered with me that my left arm was not working. When I saw the blade a second time, I grabbed his wrist. I realised I had created a bigger problem for myself. I was obviously bleeding badly because the warm blood was into my crotch region and I did not feel well. I couldn't hold hands forever; I didn't know how long this relationship would last. I had to let go and once again, I never felt the silent entry. When the blade came back for its next attack, I grabbed and twisted it with all my strength until he let go. I then threw the knife as far as I could. (Later evidence in court showed I had only thrown it a few feet).

I had to get him back to the police station. Did I forget to say this all took place within 100 yards of the police station? Did I also forget to tell that I hadn't radioed off and told anyone what I was up too. Did I also forget to tell you I didn't have my torch or radio with me, but I did have my handcuffs. I drove my knee into his back and with one hand forced his hands around until I handcuffed him. Sounds strange but as a dog handler you often caught offenders on your own with the dog. So you had the dog on a leash, which used one hand, and you mastered techniques for hand cuffing offenders using the one free hand. It still hadn't registered with me that my left arm was not working. Cara had not come in because she wasn't allowed unless I commanded her. She was making an unholy racket of barking on the outside of the bushes.

The cold night air, the warm blood not trickling but flowing ran down the inside of my trousers as I stood up. I grabbed him by the belt to lift him up and going to carry him to the police station. He was wimpy in size. I got him off the deck before I passed out. I was drifting in and out of consciousness. The irony did not escape me of how close I was to the station, this would be one of my smaller offenders, and I was going to die on the roadside beside him. At this stage, I could have done with a TV director to make everything right.

I vaguely remembered the ambulance arriving and all my colleagues running around - their voices echoed apprehension as though they were preparing for my wake.

Then it happened. As I drifted off again I had a euphoric sense of peace and calmness. I remember looking back at my body beside the young man who wanted to terminate my life. Cara had come in and was doing her best to undress him, one set of ivory chunks at a time. A police dog is only allowed to attack without command when the handler has been attacked, and I had stopped telling her not to come in. No, I was not capable of such a command.

I looked down at the scene and then looked away towards a light and started to drift towards it. It felt extremely pleasant like no other experience I have had in my life (until the next one but that is another story). I don't know why or how it happened but I remembered my two daughters and I hadn't kissed them goodbye. I had to go back until I saw my daughters and so I did.

I vaguely remembered the ambulance arriving and all my colleagues running around - their voices echoed apprehension as though they were preparing for my wake.