Legendary cop dog to retire

2015-01-10 00:00

AFTER a decade of police service — 70 years in dog years — Udain, the legendary canine partner and confidant of search-and-rescue policeman Lieutenant Jack Haskins — will retire.

Udain joined Haskins as his furry sidekick back in 2005 and has since been instrumental in numerous high-profile police search-and-rescue operations.

“You have to basically shelve the way you work with your partner, and start with a new one,” Haskins said.

Tomorrow, the veteran cop will begin the training of a new dog partner, for the next 14 months, before his own retirement.

“It’s going to be very difficult without him. You build a close bond with a dog and then you have to build a new bond with another one. It’s like a break-up with a girlfriend, where you just have to start over again,” Haskins said.

A hero in the field, a fearless Udain entered difficult places in search of bodies, hung out of helicopters and abseiled cliffs with Haskins.

Udain was at the forefront of rescue operations during the Tongaat Mall collapse in November 2013. He was also in close proximity to bodies found of people who went missing during the Midmar Mile. Recently he led police to a shallow grave where the body of a murdered policeman was buried.

Reminiscing about his career, Haskins remembered Udain’s fetish for slops.

“Once I let him loose when we were looking for a body along a shoreline at the beach, Udain wandered off and a couple was walking, with the woman carrying her slops. Udain stole them out of her hand and ran off. During one of his evaluations at Midmar Dam, we walked away and Udain thought it would be the perfect time to chew-up slops that were left behind,” Haskins said.

Even with saving the lives of people found in operations, Haskins’s bond with Udain goes much further than just field work.

He said that he spent more time with Udain than he did with his own family.

“In 2010, I went through a bit of a rough patch when I lost my wife. Udain became my psychologist. I chatted to him and that gave me comfort because he is a very affectionate dog,” he said.

Udain is the brother of Ully, the distinguished police dog of Sergeant Ryan Charlton.

Last year in June, Ully was one of the most senior police dogs in service and was on the brink of retirement from Durban’s K-9 unit when he was crippled with a string of illnesses that eventually led to his needing to be put down.

Udain and Ully worked together on numerous cases and were sometimes responsible for recovering bodies during operations.

Serving as part of the Pietermaritzburg Dog Unit, Udain will now lead a “life of luxury”.

“Being 11 years-old, and 77 years-old in dog years, his health has deteriorated and his body is packing up. He is just going to lie down and relax,” he said.

Maureen Vida, former Pietermaritzburg SPCA spokesperson and a friend of Haskins, said that the role of police dogs is critical in their line of work.

“They play an absolutely vital role in rescue and identifying. They help the community so much, not just recovering the bodies, but by giving people closure,” she said.

“Udain’s retirement is a huge a loss. He played an exceptional role and it is very sad that Udain has to retire. People in the community identify with Jack and Udain so his retirement will definitely leave a big gap in the community,” she said.

• kyle.venktess@witness.co.za

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