Three heroic police dogs are to receive awards for their part in the arrest of capture of a vicious armed criminal gang.
Two of the dogs died, and a third survived a gunshot wound to the head, as they helped take down the heavily armed killers.
The two German Shepherds and a Rottweiler have earned the respect of the nation after chasing three heavily armed suspects into a dense sugar cane field.
A fourth gang member had already been shot dead at the wheel of a stolen Jeep that a specialist South African police team called the Hawks had tracked down and ambushed.
Over 100 shots were fired in the gunfight that ensued. German Shepherds Shaka and Simba were shot dead as they bravely took both their targets down.
Dog handlers and supporting officers shot their killers dead within seconds of their K9s being killed but a third gunman fled deeper into the undergrowth and hid.
A third K9, Duke the Rottweiler, was called in and quickly picked up the scent of the hidden gunman. But as he closed in the suspect ambushed Duke and shot him.
He was hit in the head – the bullet passed through his ear and exited through the top of his head but he continued to attack before collapsing covered in blood.
The gunman escaped, but Duke was credited with saving the life of his handler Sergeant Pedro Rodrigues who carried his stricken dog half mile back to the road.
A helicopter was sent in to airlift Duke to the Hilton Vet Hospital in Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal where dramatic footage shows the handler running in with his dog.
Vets were waiting to carry out an emergency operation and after two hours of surgery Duke was miraculously patched up.
The brave dog is making a rapid recovery and expected to return to the front line in the fight against crime.
Simba’s handler Captain Reno Dayaram and Shaka’s owner Sergeant Mdadane both said they owed their lives to the bravery of their K9s taking on the gunmen.
They said their lives had been saved “hundreds of times” over the years by both dogs and South Africa’s Minister for Safety and Security is expected to award medals to all three K9s.
The award was brought in by then President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki in 2004 “in recognition of outstanding and exceptional bravery” by police dogs and horses.
If the hero dog or horse loses its life "in the line of duty" a bar can be added to the Star for Bravery.
The four suspects were sought out in an intelligence led operation by the elite Hawks unit which targets organised and serious crime after a police chief was murdered.
Lieutenant Colonel Jabulani Ndawonde who was the station commander at Ndwedwe, KwaZulu-Natal, died in a hail of 27 bullets as he drove back home. His 9mm pistol and R-5 automatic rifle were stolen by the killers.
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Acting on a tip-off, the Hawks swooped on the gang.
The Provincial Head of the Hawks in KZN Major General Lesetja Senona said: ”Justice has now been brought to the family of Lieutenant Colonel Ndawonde.
“I send my condolences to the Pietermaritzburg K9 unit for the loss of Simba and Shaka in the line of duty but this unit will continue to protect us from criminals”.
Captain Dayaram, who had been working with Simba who was shot dead since 2010 said: “I was told it was too dangerous to go into the bush but this is what we do.
“We were in the bush and I had Simba on a line to stay close to him then there was gunfire and I saw Simba lying by the suspect and we returned fire on the suspect.
“I knelt with Simba and stroked his fur and spoke with him until he took his last breath.He was a brave and awesome dog who saved my life so many times.
“His speed and power was such he took down guys firing AK-47’s and 9mm pistols and although when on duty he was a weapon when off duty was our family pet.
“Losing Simba was like losing a son but I was back at work the next day” he said.
A SAPS spokesman confirmed the three dogs more than met the criteria to be awarded the Star for Canine Bravery and would be recommending them for it.
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