In a dramatic chase of a teen burglar, police dog McCaw - named after Richie McCaw - had a large filleting knife plunged 10cm into the back of his neck. Journalist Kelly Makiha reveals details about the horrifying ordeal - and how it all ended.
Constable Dave Balck put his hand down to pat his four-legged "best mate" when he noticed a pool of blood.
Police dog McCaw had just chased down a knife-wielding burglar with his handler following closely behind.
But as the drama ended, Balck noticed McCaw was flat and fading.
Little did the dog handler know, just minutes earlier the 14-year-old offender had plunged a large filleting knife 10cm in the neck of his beloved dog - named after All Black great Richie McCaw.
The blade went just millimetres past vital arteries. If the 4-year-old dog didn't get help quickly, he would bleed to death.
The offender's case was called in the Rotorua Youth Court this week when, through his lawyer, he entered a plea of non-denial to two charges, including burglary and injuring a police dog.
The youth can not be named for legal reasons but the Rotorua Daily Post was granted permission to report his court case.
The youth, who is now remanded on bail in the South Island, is required to appear in the Alexandra Youth Court on July 22 for an update on his progress before reappearing on August 19.
According to a police summary of facts, released to the Rotorua Daily Post, the teen was armed with a large knife when he broke into a car at a house on Ford Rd at 3am on Friday April 17 - at a time New Zealand was in alert level 4 lockdown.
The teen was disturbed by the car's owner, police were called and the youth ran away north on Ford Rd.
McCaw and Balck were deployed and eventually tracked the youth to his home a short distance away, the summary said.
The teen ran to the back of the property and into the kitchen where he picked up a sharp filleting knife. As McCaw approached him, the teen plunged the knife into the dog's neck.
Balck followed behind and confronted the teen who was hiding under the front stairs of the house.
Balck tried to safely arrest him but the teen self-harmed, the summary said.
Balck described the events of the night as "horrific", particularly when he confronted the teen.
Police reported at the time the teen was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Balck said he was unaware the teen had stabbed McCaw as he had lost sight of both of them briefly during the chase - which was when his training kicked in that potentially could have saved McCaw's life.
"When you lose sight of your dog you must recall them, so that's what I did and he came back to me."
If Balck hadn't recalled his dog, the teen could have stabbed him more because McCaw was trained to stay on the offender unless told otherwise by his handler.
"I've kicked myself wondering if I should have recalled him earlier but the best thing I did was come back and put in writing what happened and I know I would have done the same thing if faced with it again. We are in this job because we want to catch offenders and hold them to account."
Once he knew McCaw was in trouble, Balck swung into action to stop the bleeding by using medical supplies he carries on his belt to blot the wound.
They phoned Rotorua Central City Vets who performed a two-hour surgery on McCaw despite the tricky lockdown conditions.
Rotorua dog section leader Sergeant Jason Owen said they were indebted to vet Penny and vet nurse Natalie for performing the surgery in the early hours of the morning.
"McCaw is a tough little dog and lives up to his namesake."
Owen said sadly these types of situations were part of the job and were becoming more frequent.
"We don't want people just doing their jobs, we want guys going the extra mile and when it gets tough they have the resilience to get the job done."
He said whenever there was such an incident in the squad, the whole team felt it.
"McCaw did everything that we required of him. It's always an emotional time for the team and their families because they have concerns about the environments we work in and they are relevant concerns."
He said both Balck and McCaw had bounced back from the experience stronger than ever, proven just last week when McCaw had his first real test, ending in an offender being chased down.
"You could say McCaw had the match fitness and tackled well," Owen said.