Doyen of dog handlers hangs up his leashes

SEPTEMBER 30, 2016 East London police dog handler Warrant Officer Steve Leslie poses with Buti after an interview with the Dispatch. Leslie layed down the badge after 42 years, eight months and 15 days in the service. PICTURE ALAN EASON ©DAILY DISPATCH
SEPTEMBER 30, 2016 East London police dog handler Warrant Officer Steve Leslie poses with Buti after an interview with the Dispatch. Leslie layed down the badge after 42 years, eight months and 15 days in the service. PICTURE ALAN EASON ©DAILY DISPATCH
Police dog handler Warrant Officer Steve Leslie has retired after an illustrious career spanning four decades in the service.

“I’ve officially been with the police for 42 years, eight months and 15 days,” Leslie said in an interview yesterday.

He turned 60 this week.

Leslie’s career began in the South African Navy Police in 1974 where he became a naval police dog handler. He left in 1976 to join the South African Railway Police and again became a dog handler.

In 1986 the railway police was amalgamated into the SAPS and Leslie took up his duties with the East London Dog Unit.

Leslie was promoted in 1996 from sergeant to warrant officer and started working as a K9 search and rescue dog handler.

This is where he remained until his retirement yesterday.

For Leslie, the last two decades were spent developing a special set of skills that involved how to deal with the families of deceased victims.

“The best part of my career has been the last 20 years in search and rescue,” he said.

He covered the width and breadth of the province searching for and providing aid to people in distress or danger.

He was not alone though, and credits some of his successful search and rescue missions in the last 20 years to the help he had from his six dogs: Zara, Jatos, Zazoo, James, Lez and Buti.

Buti also retired yesterday due to age and ailing health.

Leslie said the four-legged heroes played an invaluable role in cutting down on the time needed to find a missing person.

“I’ve had six dogs in my career at search and rescue and together we performed a total of 1768 searches. Of those, 622 were positive searches where the victims were found alive.

“About 78 people were rescued by the dogs,” Leslie said.

He often receives messages of goodwill from family members of the people he has helped.

But in many other cases he still wonders what has become of the people he rescued, especially the kids.

“Like the newborn baby boy I rescued in Duncan Village in 1997 after he was dumped by his mother in the forest.

“I wonder where he is now and whether he knows that his life was saved by a dog (Zara).”

He has also used his time to conduct 446 talks and demonstrations at public schools.

Leslie said he will spend the next three months relaxing and travelling. “Next year I will try to find a small job to keep my health going.

“I will also begin writing my memoirs of my experiences at search and rescue.”— zwangam@dispatch.co.za

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