An unusual local hero

Sauer the DobermannWhen travelling to McGregor from Cape Town, one passes through places like Worcester, Rawsonville, the Nuy valley and Robertson, and for those of us who live in the area, these names are part of our interior landscape. But few of us know about a rather unusual local hero, whose greatest feats were performed in these parts.....

In June of 1917, a Dobermann called Sauer was born at the premises of the South African Police Dog School in Irene. Although his breeding was sound, he failed to show much promise initially, and was very nearly written off as being too nervous for police work.

Patient and careful handling improved him, and he formed a strong bond with his trainer, Detective-Sergeant Herbert Kruger. Sauer was loyal and obedient to Kruger; others found him harder to handle.

Early in his career, Sauer gave the first demonstration of his legendary powers by successfully following a trail which was one hundred and thirty two hours old. This is believed to be a world record; but greater achievements would follow.

In 1921, Sauer led his handler thirteen miles from Worcester to Nuy Station, searching for articles stolen from a Worcester shop. At Nuy, he lost the trail; it transpired that the thief had caught the train to Tulbagh, where he was caught.

In another feat, while a minister was preaching his sermon, a thief broke into his home and stole a travel bag with some clothes and three pounds in cash – a small fortune in those days. The bag was found in the veld; Sauer was called to the scene. By the time Kruger and Sauer arrived, more than a day had elapsed. Sauer picked up the trail, followed it to a house not far away and started barking. As soon as the door was opened, Sauer rushed in and went straight up to the guilty party, who was later convicted.

In Paaupan, a thief broke into a house in open country, and left his knife at the scene of the crime. Sauer was given the scent and tracked for several miles along the railway line leading to Houtkraal. Eventually he led Kruger away from the railway, ending up outside a shop in Potfontein, where he appeared particularly interested in a certain spot on the stoep. The shop owner confirmed that a stranger had left his bundle lying on the stoep the previous night, in the spot Sauer had indicated. Sauer followed the trail for a further eight miles into the veld, where he discovered the remains of a fire, and finally led Kruger to the station at Houtkraal, twenty-six miles from the start of the trail. Enquiries were made; it appeared that a stranger had caught the train to De Aar.

Kruger and Sauer followed suit and caught the next train, and arrested the thief, who had not gone far, on the station at De Aar. In 1925, Sauer tracked his way into history. Called in on a case of stock theft, he and Kruger tracked the thief, without stopping, for one hundred hot, gruelling miles across the Great Karoo, and caught their man. To this day, over 80 years later, his feat has not been equalled, and Sauer, the dog once believed inadequate for police work, remains the proud holder of the world tracking record.

Sauer died, aged nine, in June 1926 in De Aar. He was buried in a place of honour on police property. His legacy remains as an inspiration to Dobermann lovers everywhere; Dobermanns excel at canine search and rescue, and it is an honour to be able to count Sauer as the finest of their number.

And to those of us who race through this beautiful, sun-scorched landscape in our cars, travelling to and from Cape Town or Worcester: slow down occasionally and spare a thought for Sauer and Sergeant Kruger. They did it all on foot.

A note from Caroline Barnard, the author of this article

As a 2nd generation Dobe fanatic, I've been fascinated by the story of Sauer for many years, but the only information I could find about his tracking feats was a very sketchy entry in the Guinness Book of Records. Then, while editing a Dobermann magazine called Dobe Capers (for the Dobermann Club of the Cape), I came into contact with an elderly lady called Mrs Irene Oosthuizen, who lived in Napier and whose father had brought the first police Dobermanns into the country in 1911. She was the person who provided me with all the information in the article, which had been collated by a Captain Hendrik Smit of the South African Police Services (Captain Smit was busy writing a history of the SAP Dog Unit at the time). Much to my surprise (I was living in McGregor at the time), I discovered that most of his tracking achievements had taken place in this area! 

The above article was the outcome of this, and was first published in Dobe Capers (the Christmas 1999 edition, which coincided with the centenary of the breed). It was subsequently reproduced in UDC Focus, the magazine of the United Doberman Club of America.

Unfortunately I have never been able to find a photo of Sauer, and the Dobermann head in the article is from a photograph of Bob v. Elfenveld, c. 1910