Nitro: Badge #9755

Honouring the fallen Nitro, photo courtesy Lyle Stafford

Honouring the fallen Nitro, photo courtesy Lyle Stafford

This story is amalgamated from research and newspaper articles following the death of K9 officer Nitro.

Thank you to Howard Chow of the Vancouver Police Department.

The Vancouver Police Dog Squad is well known internationally and is considered one of the finest dog squads to be found anywhere. It uses German Shepherds exclusively. Its training methods, refined through its 40 year history, are similar to the classic Schutzhund style training, but the Vancouver Dog Squad’s productivity in criminal apprehension work and urban tracking skills exceeds the character of Schutzhund training practices which are not practical for the unpredictable nature of urban apprehension work.

The Vancouver Police Squad was the first Police Department in Canada to train dogs as a component of its Emergency Response Team. Nitro was one of only a few dogs who made it to work with this team. Smaller in stature than the typical male Shepherd, he was one of the top producers in the unit. He developed a reputation as a very tenacious dog.
Nitro was a beloved member of the Rutter family which he had joined as a puppy and had grown up with Constable Howard Rutter’s two children, Meghan and Matthew. He became an official K9 in June 1999 and became a popular member of the Vancouver Police Dog Squad. The mahogany-brown eyed German Shepherd was the first police dog who was named through the unit’s “name the puppy” contest.

Some of Nitro’s notable successes occurred when in October 2002 four men were reported stealing items from cars. Nitro showed up 20 minutes later, tracked the suspects 12 blocks, and found them breaking into yet another vehicle. He caught hold of one of the men who tried to flee, dragging Nitro for a block. The dog maintained his hold and the suspect was arrested. In September 2003 an armed robber got on bus in 600-block and Broadway, got off at Broadway and Oak. Nitro tracked him two blocks to the apartment where the robber was hiding. Then in October 2004 a man in a stolen car crashed into the side of a building and fled. Nitro tracked him 15 blocks and found him in bushes.
When his services were last called upon in February 2006, Nitro was due to retire from active duty that April. The active dog was showing evidence of arthritis.

Nitro was eight years old when he was killed in action. The fatal incident began during a dog-and-handler training class. When officers in an unmarked car spotted a stolen vehicle and followed it into New Westminster, his handler Constable Rutter and Nitro were called to assist. The stolen car drove to Front Street where the occupants realized they were being followed by police. When they saw that a train blocked their escape route, they were forced to stop the car at the train crossing. They got out of the car and fled. Nitro was released and chased one of the men who had jumped onto the side of a boxcar in an attempt to escape. Nitro latched onto the man but just as the train began moving he lost his grip and fell under the wheels of the train. Those who saw the traumatic incident thought the Shepherd was killed instantly.

Witnessing the death were several senior officers, civilians who help in the dog-training process, and Nitro’s only handler, acting Sgt. Howard Rutter. All those who saw what happened were deeply upset.

One of the two men was captured several hours later and charged with theft over $5,000 and various probation violations. Constable Rutter was temporarily put on administrative leave.
While hundreds of police officers stood at attention, 92 dog teams walked past a shrine and the urn holding Nitro’s ashes. It was a noisy funeral; police service dogs filled the Seaforth Armouries with a cacophony of sound as they barked loudly for their fallen comrade. In keeping with Vancouver Police tradition, Nitro’s ashes were spread on each of the four corners of the city, so Nitro can guard the city even in his afterlife.

Nitro was the eighth Vancouver police dog to die in the line of duty since the unit was founded.

2 Responses to “Nitro: Badge #9755”

  • Kyle Macgregor says:

    I was doing research for the requirments of becoming a K9 officer and came across this site and story. This story and that dog inspire me so much!! I really hope to be a K9 officer one day and dreaming of this career i made myself understand a few reality aspects of the job, such as emotional attachment to the PSD’s, the responsibilitie and commitment of loyalty and time put forth towards the training and gaining the respect and trust of the dog. This story is a heartbreaking one! But Nitro has inspired me so much and i can not wait til i am the sidekick to the police dog i get to call my own and were fighting crime as a team together!

  • LR says:

    What a hero Nitro was – I remember his spunk while quarrying for the dog squad, and his peaceful nature whenever he came in to the vet clinic.

    I hope the Rutter family has found some peace. How hard to lose a beloved family member, faithful companion and partner.

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