On October 10th 2021 Sgt Dale Ristau was away with his family for the Thanksgiving weekend, including his partner, 7 Year old Police Service Dog Gibson. During the trip Gibson became ill and was rushed to an emergency veterinary clinic on Vancouver Island. There, it was discovered that Gibson had a rupture on his spleen causing massive internal bleeding and required immediate surgery. Despite the blood loss, Gibson survived the surgery, but his family was warned there was a high likelihood that the rupture was caused by cancer of the spleen, a disease which has a terrible long-term prognosis. The good news was Gibson was stable after surgery and doctors did not see any cancerous spread to other organs. Biopsy results soon confirmed the worst, however: Gibson had hemangiosarcoma, a highly aggressive form of cancer.
Right after surgery Gibson became an indoors dog – well, as much of an indoors dog as a high drive police dog can be: his family quickly learned there could be no more unattended food on the table or counters! To help him adapt to his new accommodations Gibson kept a collection of balls on his bed and for Christmas Sgt Ristau’s kids did painstaking research, testing toys for hours to find Gibson the least squeaky Christmas present on the market!
Despite the bleak news, Gibson’s recovery from surgery went well and his family resolved to make the best of what time remained with him. As for Gibson, he was blissfully unaware of his diagnosis, was in fine spirits and showed immense drive and passion for getting back to police work! Although the humans in his life knew Gibson was only supposed to have weeks to live, he had other plans.
Miraculously, Gibson returned to duty in early November and on his second day back at work tracked down and apprehended a fleeing suspect! During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Gibson continued his work as a successful police dog, tracking down criminals, searching for evidence, and keeping his community safe. He showed no signs of slowing down and thoroughly enjoyed his french fry rewards for success! In December, Gibson was awarded the Commanding Officers Award for Bravery for his role in tracking down and apprehending 2 armed robbery suspects, and for good measure located all the evidence related to the offence. This was one of Gibson’s more memorable files, for sure earning him some French fries!
Gibson was a special dog who had experienced all the RCMP has to offer. Upon completion of his general duty training it was clear he would excel at his job. With his drive he took up a position with the Lower Mainland Detachment (LMD) Tactical Troop, served on several LMD callouts, including to the G7 summit in Quebec. After a few years of this role he clearly wanted more challenge and trained to deploy with Emergency Response Teams (ERT), assisting in many high risk calls throughout the LMD. Gibson was also one of only a few RCMP trained dogs to respond to avalanche search and rescue calls. He was involved in many rescues and assisted in locating people missing in fatal avalanches, providing closure for the families and minimizing the risk to rescuers by searching an area quickly.
Gibson began 2022 recovering from a minor leg injury and did not return to active duty. Sgt Ristau started training a new dog and encouraged Gibson to rub off as many of his best qualities to the new pooch as possible. On February 3rd 2022, Sgt Ristau returned home to take Gibson out for a walk, but Gibson was unwilling to move. He was taken to the emergency vet, where it was discovered that the aggressive cancer had returned with another ruptured and bleeding tumor on his liver. There was no coming back from it this time. Gibson fought right up to the end.
Gibson cherished his family and was able to spend his last months doing what he loved: work, chewing on a ball, and playing tug of war with his human brother and sister, who loved him dearly. Gibson was the best at giving kisses and had a giant personality. He was well known among his human colleagues for his distinctive bark/howl, dubbed “Gibsons war-cry”, that announced he was enroute to a call. A war cry is fitting for the warrior and protector Gibson was to his family and those he was tasked to serve and protect.