Sept 13, 1996
Constable Doug Lewis, an eighteen-year veteran of the RCMP and a canine handler for the past seven years, was off duty on Friday, September 13th. He had been out exercising his canine partner Chip, a two-and-a-half-year old German Shepherd Dog who had been Lewis’s partner for the past eighteen months. They were in Buckerfield’s Country Store in Chilliwack, British Columbia, buying a bag of dog food, when Lewis’s pager went off at 2:00pm. Lewis called in and learned that highway patrol in Hope was requesting a canine unit to track a suspect who had fled into the woods. Lewis paid for his purchase and rushed straight over.
Arriving thirty minutes later, Lewis was apprised of the situation by officers on scene – highway patrol had chased a car after the driver failed to pay for gas and ran a tollbooth near the town of Merritt. When officers pulled the car over, the driver – a male, 6’1” and 235lbs, apparently unarmed and clad in shorts and a t-shirt - was aggressive and highly confrontational. He resisted arrest and fled into the bush.
Because he was off duty at the time, Lewis was without his gun, radio, handcuffs and other equipment. But he knew the two members of the Emergency Response Team who would be his backup, and he trusted that they would look after him if need be. All Lewis and Chip had to do was locate the suspect – the ERT team would take care of the rest.
Lewis slipped the tracking harness over Chip’s head, attached the twenty-foot long line, and headed into the bush with the his backup close on his heels. The track led straight up the mountainside, the going was rough, and the ERT team soon fell behind. Twice, Lewis had to wait when they called for him to slow down. The third time they called out, Lewis didn’t hear them.
Nose to the ground and pulling hard, Chip continued to follow the track through the dense brush. Three kilometers into the woods, the terrain leveled out. Suddenly, Chip raised his head. Following his partner’s gaze, Lewis spied a man hiding behind a tree. Lewis commanded his dog to attack as Chip charged at the suspect.
But as Chip latched onto the man’s left arm, Lewis saw, to his horror, that in his right hand the man was brandishing a knife. Before Lewis could react, the suspect plunged the knife into Chip’s neck, severing his jugular vein. As the man withdrew the knife and moved to stab Chip again, Lewis dropped the leash and rushed to the aid of his canine partner. The suspect reacted, and turned his fury on the unarmed officer. Chip, dragging his leash behind him, circled behind his handler then leapt at the suspect again – inadvertently wrapping the leash around Lewis’s legs.
Violently swinging the knife, the suspect knocked the hobbled officer to the ground and began stabbing him in the face, arms and neck. Frantic to protect his master, Chip lunged repeatedly, biting at the attacker and even at his own handler in the confusion as the two men wrestled for control of the knife.
Fighting for his life, Lewis managed to wrench the knife out of his attacker’s grip. Through the blood and sweat running into his eyes, he caught a glimpse of Chip standing off to the side, glassy eyed and bleeding heavily. It would be the last time he saw his partner alive.
The fight continued for several minutes more, with the suspect punching and stabbing the officer. Lewis continued to yell for his backup, hoping they would come to his rescue, but to no avail. Finally, the suspect gave up – he walked over to where Chip was lying motionless on the ground, cut off the dog’s leash, then fled into the woods.
Lewis immediately turned his attention to Chip, but the dog’s eyes were glassed over and he wasn’t moving. Knowing it was too late, Lewis nonetheless removed his t-shirt and tried to stop the bleeding. As he cradled his partner’s head, Chip let out a gasp – and he was gone.
Exhausted from the fight and going into shock from the heavy loss of blood, Lewis stumbled through the woods, heading towards the sound of the distant highway. Twenty minutes later, he staggered out onto the road and flagged down a passing car.
A massive manhunt was launched, with thirty police officers, seven canine units and the RCMP helicopter searching for the suspect. Five hours later, RCMP Corporal George Beattie and his police service dog caught up with the man, and placed him under arrest.
Lewis had suffered nine stab wounds to his face, arms and chest, requiring more than fifty stitches. Nevertheless, he was back at work in two weeks’ time, training with his new canine partner. “It was hard to get another dog,” he admits. “Chip was a phenomenal dog. I think of him often.”
Touched by the police dog’s bravery and loyalty to his handler, the citizens of Hope erected a monument in Chip’s honour. Carved out of wood, it depicts a dog standing on a mountainside. A plaque mounted on the base reads:
“This carving has been erected in the lasting memory of Royal Canadian Mounted Police Service Dog Chip, killed in the line of duty near Hope, British Columbia, September 13, 1996, while protecting his partner and friend, Cst. Doug Lewis.”
The suspect, Robert John Petrus of Campbell River, was charged with the attempted murder of Constable Lewis. He never stood trial, having been found not criminally responsible due to mental illness (he had been off his medication at the time of the attack). Under current provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada, Petrus could not be charged with killing Chip.
As for Cst. Lewis, he continues to work with Police Dog Services. An affable man with an easy smile, he often speaks to new recruits on the subject of officer safety. His message: “Never give up.”