Gus steps into breach

2014-05-09 00:00

SERGEANT Shawn Jooste has a large tattoo of his first dog’s paw print on his chest.

And he loved his last police dog so much that — when they were both electrocuted while chasing a thief — he spurned an ambulance for himself to rush Khulu to a vet, despite the dog’s fatal injuries.

But, just two months after that heartbreak, the Durban Metro police dog handler is about to begin a new law enforcement love affair — “thanks to the incredible kindness of the residents we serve”.

Business and community leaders in his home town of Amanzimtoti raised funds for a new pure-bred German Shepherd for Jooste to train, and the dog could “graduate” as soon as this month.

The 39-year-old chose Gus from among 30 candidates in Gauteng — “mostly because he was the one who played with me” — and has spent 34 of the past 36 days training him.

On Tuesday this week, Jooste, having to operate without a canine partner, arrested a house robbery suspect in south Durban who had fled through two kilometres of bush. In a “dry run” hours later, he said Gus successfully tracked the burglar’s exact path through the veld, something which the burglar himself helpfully confirmed.

Referring to Rob Mills, a member of the Amanzimtoti Community Crime Prevention Organisation, Jooste said, “I don’t have enough words to thank Rob and the community for how they’ve helped us. I guess Gus and me will thank them by making arrests and recovering stuff stolen from their neighbourhood.”

Both Khulu and the theft suspect he was chasing were killed when they ran into dangling illegal electricity cables in Malvern on March 12.

Speaking for the first time since the tragedy, Jooste revealed that he had been shocked three times as he tried to pry the German Shepherd loose.

“It was like being hit on the head with a shovel; I remember waking up on the ground twice,” he said. “If I’d fallen forward, onto him, I’d be with him now in [the afterlife].”

Eventually, he hauled Khulu from the high voltage tangle using his “puppy line” leash.

Captain Greg Beavon, shift commander for the unit, said, “This work is a passion for all of us. But I can tell you its been tough on him. Shawn really loved that dog; they did fantastic work together. I mean, he organised a crew to look after the crime scene and drove Khulu to the vet himself, and then hitched a ride in an ambulance there!”

Police dog handlers can only work with dogs they’ve been certified with as a team, but Jooste said he found he could not replace Khulu with his nominated successor, Euro. Having reared Euro at his own home, where he also kept another retired working dog, Jooste said his 12-year-old son, Jared, “would be more broken than me if something happened to that dog as well”.

When Mills and other residents heard his quandary over a coffee, “he said how would it be if they raised money for a new dog for me. You must understand, ordinary residents also paid the bill when Khulu had his canine tooth smashed by a suspect last year, and they also paid for X-rays he needed. But these dogs are very expensive. I was totally amazed at the effort; they’d raised R10 000 in the first two days.”

Eventually, Jooste’s home town citizens raised R23 000, some of which is now left over for other handlers’ needs.

But residents told The Witness that they often called Jooste directly on his cellphone during crime emergencies, and that he’d been responding day and night for the past 10 years.

While Khulu was “a genius”, responsible for dozens of “take-downs” in south Durban, Jooste said Gus was strong and talented at “bite work”, but was “a bit stubborn”. Using Afrikaans commands “because we find too many English words sound the same and it’s a bit prim”, the pair have completed obedience and spoor training, and must complete courses in “bush work and buildings” before a joint assessment. Jooste and his human partner, Dean Nieuwoudt, have made seven arrests in the past eight days on shift.

But Jooste said chasing criminals without his canine partner “feels like I’m not complete out there, and you lose an amazing asset”.

He said, “I love the training, and having him has helped with the grief, but it’s still there.”

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