For eight years and 665 searches German Shepherd Kojak was his heroic partner, but yesterday the courageous dog was laid to rest after dying from a brain tumour on Sunday.
Devastated handler Warrant Officer Etienne Gerber of the Port Elizabeth K9 Unit spoke to the Daily Dispatch moments after he buried his “life partner” at the small K9 cemetery at the unit. He put Kojak’s collar and name plate round his neck before the low-key burial.
“It was just me and a colleague and one or two others. I had my fair share of grief on Sunday when he had a stroke and had to be put down, so I wanted to keep it short and sweet and get it over as soon as possible,” he said.
“It’s hard, but it will eventually be better. Like my son said, Kojak’s body was just an empty shell because he is in Heaven.”
Gerber said he had trained Kojak to become a search and rescue dog eight years ago. Since then his fourlegged partner had found 275 bodies and participated in many deathdefying operations in the Eastern Cape and further afield.
He helped search in the highprofile case for missing teacher Jayde Panayiotou, whose husband Christopher Panayiotou is being tried for masterminding her murder.
“Kojak and I searched for her in the bush and the mountains along with my colleague and his dog and they found Jayde’s body in the veld.”
Blessed with nerves of steel, Kojak thought nothing of 30m below a helicopter.
“We would be harnessed together and lowered into terrain that was inaccessible to vehicles. I would pat his head and we kept each other calm. He actually enjoyed it. He was trained to do it.”
Gerber also remembers a nervewracking operation in a Tanzanian gold mine four years ago, when he and Kojak were one of three searchand-rescue K9 duos to be sent 2 500m down a mineshaft in search of a missing miner.
“It was a totally different environment for the dogs because of the heat and humidity.”
Kojak was also involved in searching the Wild Coast for missing people in collaboration with the East London K9 Unit, which included Warrant Officer Steve Leslie and Warrant Officer Pierre Marx and their dogs.
“People were found but they were usually not alive,” said Gerber, who dangling originates from Queenstown.
Kojak was retired from active service in May when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and went to live with Gerber and his family.
“It was a big shock. We thought it was a middle ear infection because there was something wrong with his balance, but a brain scan showed the tumour.
“He was loving, compassionate, energetic and full of life. “And of course, he was a hero.” Police spokeswoman Colonel Priscilla Naidu said Gerber heard Kojak whimpering at 2am on Sunday morning and found him halfway out of his kennel.
He remained with his old partner until he lost consciousness and had to be put down at the Walmer Vet.
Gerber said he would soon be going to Pretoria to spend 85 days training his new K9, a female German Shepherd called Misty. —