'Hero’ Dante prepares for retirement

Dante has been teamed up with his partner, Warrant Officer Clinton Odayar, since he was two-years-old and served nine years as a K9 officer. He was recently granted medical leave from work and is in the process of retiring

Warrant Officer Clinton Odayar with Dante at a recent search

Published Feb 23, 2024

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A heart-warming crowdfunding initiative to replace highly-skilled "heroic" K9 officer, Dante, a cadaver dog who is preparing for retirement from the Umhlali Search and Rescue Unit, resulted in money being raised in a day to buy a new K9 for his handler.

Dante, 11, has been teamed up with his partner, Warrant Officer Clinton Odayar, since he was two-years-old and served nine years as a K9 officer. He was recently granted medical leave from work and is in the process of retiring.

Dante, a German Shepherd, was diagnosed with arthritis by a police vet.

Once he retires, Odayar would have had to go to the dog school in Pretoria to undergo training with another dog assigned to him. This process would have taken four to five months. But plans were put into action by IPPS Search and Rescue (IPSS), a non-profit organisation that works closely with the Umhlali Search and Rescue team, to promptly secure a K9 partner for Odayar.

Samantha Meyrick, IPSS spokesperson, said the organisation was fond of Dante as they worked closely with Odayar for many years.

“We know how important dogs like Dante are in search and rescue missions. When we found out he would retire soon, we chatted to Odayar and decided to raise the money to purchase a new dog ourselves, so there would be minimal downtime until Dante was replaced,” she said.

IPSS partnered with a local radio station to host a telethon and within the day, they had raised the money needed to purchase a dog.

“Businesses and individuals called in and pledged different amounts and the support was overwhelming. We are thrilled it took only one day to come up with the money. Odayar’s new K9 partner was purchased from a private K9 school in Pietermaritzburg at a cost of R60 000. Zeus is a two-year-old Dutch Shepherd and is fully-trained as a cadaver dog,” Meyrick added.

Dante and Odayar specialised in finding missing or deceased people and have responded to more than 900 search and rescue calls since Dante’s first case in 2015. More recently, Dante and Odayar were deployed to Ladysmith following floods on Christmas eve, where they successfully located several missing flood victims.

Meyrick said during flooding in Tongaat and the north coast, Dante found two people who were missing.

“As humans, we can search but it is difficult. We rely on the K9 officers like Dante to guide us with their extremely good sense of smell and instincts. One victim was buried under mud and without Dante, we would never have found him. He can smell someone who has drowned if they are four metres under water, which is amazing,” Meyrick added.

Dante retires with a number of awards, including national commendations from the minister and commissioner of police, as well as podium positions in national K9 competitions.

Leaving pawprints in the hearts of families

The daughters of Brenda Scriven have found solace in keeping her legacy alive by starting an organisation called Brenda’s Canine Fund. Scriven washed away during the 2016 flash floods in South Durban and was never found. Her girls now share a close bond with Dante and lend support to and take care of the SAPS Search and Rescue Unit’s K9 officers.

Scriven’s daughters - Kirsti Scriven, Tami Scriven and Lindy Swales - met Dante during the search for their mum. They have shared a remarkable bond with Dante since then, and also played a role in raising funds for his replacement K9. They recently showered Dante with retirement gifts.

Swales said: “It's truly indescribable how our hearts are overflowing with a whirlwind of emotions right now. The joy is absolutely overwhelming as our beloved, fluffy boy Dante embarks on a well-deserved retirement.

"Intertwined with this happiness is a touch of sorrow for Dante's partner and handler, Odayar. We know that the years of unwavering loyalty and shared adventures makes saying goodbye to their professional journey a bittersweet experience. On a brighter note, we're eagerly anticipating the arrival of another fluffy addition, Zeus,” she said.

The sisters thanked IPSS for spearheading the fundraising initiative.

“Our hearts swell with gratitude for the incredible service he provided as a loyal member of the SAPS Search and Rescue team. Today, we celebrate not just the end of his remarkable career. He came into our lives as a furry hero during a difficult time and little did we know the immense impact he would have on our lives and hearts.

"His unwavering dedication, courage, and unmatched abilities have saved lives, brought solace, and instilled hope in moments of despair. In the darkest of nights and the toughest of terrains, he stood as a beacon of strength and resilience. We wish Dante a well-deserved rest as he hangs up his collar,” they said.

Dante will live with Odayar in his retirement.

Odayar was not permitted to speak to the media at the time of publication.

THE POST

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