Django, the Iraq war dog, reunited with SA handler after two years

2015-08-08 14:18
Django, on alert as he spots a familiar figure in the distance. (Photo: Ian Carbutt)

Django, on alert as he spots a familiar figure in the distance. (Photo: Ian Carbutt)

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Durban - “I told you I was coming to get you. I told you my boy.”

After a two year separation, the moment war dog Django spotted his best friend and handler Sheldon Holland through the gates of Johannesburg’s quarantine kennels, his ears pricked up.

With fur bristling, Django bolted towards Holland the second he was released.

Tail wagging and tongue flailing, Django flew into the open arms of an emotional Holland and showered him with slobbery kisses and playful nips.

The Pietermaritzburg local and former American K9 explosives handler had been paired with the German Shepard in Kandahar, Afghanistan four years ago. The pair had immediately formed an unbreakable bond.

Working side-by-side for 18 months, the two became inseparable and when Holland finished his contract with the AMK9 unit, he promised his furry friend that he would one day live with him in South Africa.

After two years of separation and a lengthy, complicated process, Holland was told last week that the best friend, he thought he would never see again, was finally on his way to South Africa.

Although the kennels had told Holland that Django would only be released at 10:00 yesterday, Holland and his younger brother, Hadley Holland arrived at quarantine at 08:00.

As Holland paced anxiously around the reception area, he told Weekend Witness that his “nerves were shot” and his greatest fear was that after two years of being apart, Django would not remember him.

However, the minute Django layed eyes on Holland, he strained to free himself from the kennel handler’s grip.

The second he was released from his leash, Django sprinted towards Holland.

There was no doubt that he remembered exactly who Holland was.

Django only had eyes for Holland and soon he had flopped onto the grass for tummy scratches and neck tickles from his long-lost best friend.

“It feels amazing that he remembers me. I actually had a bit of doubt that he would know who I was but he has responded exactly how I had hoped he would,” said Holland while hugging Django tightly to his chest.

With an arm draped around Django, the German Shepard began barking furiously at the surrounding cameramen and media with Holland explaining that Django was telling strangers to “back off, he is all mine.”

“There are so many emotions and feelings going through me right now. I just want to be home with him and get him to the beach and spend some quality time with him. Maybe it will sink in then, that he is actually home.

“It is like the day I met him... it’s the bond that we share.”

Holland said he had no doubts Django would adjust to life in South Africa saying he was “a peaceful dog” who “just wants to be happy and play”.

“Once everyone leaves, I am going to sit under a tree with him and have a long chat and explain to him that this is one of the promises I have kept and the next one is on its way.”

Holland said during their time in Afghanistan, he had promised Django that he would take him to run and play on the beaches of KwaZulu-Natal.

Once all the paperwork had been filled out at the kennel office, the two, and Holland’s brother would be on their way to the coast to fulfill the second half of Holland’s promise.

Holland said everything had been set up for Django at home and his first meal in the country would be pap and vleis in true South African style.

“He has his place to sleep but he is definitely going to be sleeping on my bed with me for the next few nights and he will not be let out of my sight for the rest of his life.”

He said he had expected Django to have aged and lost weight in the two years they were separated but said he looked the same as when they had first met four years ago, with a slight change. Django had gotten fatter.

Holland said he had been told by the kennel handler that the dog had been extremely friendly towards the handlers and people walking in and out of the kennels.

He had been told that Django “would not stop eating”.

“He is looking healthy and wide awake. I am very happy about that.”

This morning, the pair will be taking their first walk along a beach on the South Coast together. Holland said he was in the process of relocating from Pietermaritzburg to the South Coast so he could take his best friend to the beach as often as possible.

Hadley Holland said he had walked the long journey with his brother to bring Django home. When Sheldon called him last week to accompany him to fetch Django, he did not hesitate.

“I am very excited for him. He has waited a long time for this,” said Hadley.

“I supported him every step of the way and in the beginning he didn’t actually think this would happen.

“When everybody got behind him and he saw all the support it all started to come together.”

Pets in Transport’s Christine Le Roux said their company had been involved in facilitating Django’s return to South Africa.

“It was a long process and a long journey and we battled for almost seven months to get his baby home to him.

“When we got the call this morning that the blood samples had been approved, it actually brought tears to my eyes because everyone at Pets in Transport felt like they had walked with Sheldon throughout this long journey.”

Read more on:    durban  |  animals  |  good news
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