The touching moment police dog Thames was reunited with his handler video

NZ Police

Thames and his handler Constable Mike Wakefield were happily reunited yesterday afternoon after Thames spend 7 nights and days lost in the Tararua Ranges.

Video has emerged of the moment Police dog Thames was reunited with his handler Constable Mike Wakefield.

The missing dog has even been given the all clear to return to work – after he and his handler have a few weeks of annual leave.

Thames came trotting out of the bush with his eyes shining.

Ross Giblin

"The vet says Thames is remarkably healthy for his ordeal.  He's a bit skinny, stiff and sore but that's to be expected," a police spokesman said.

'We've had a good night at home and now we'll recoup, ease the muscles and then get back into work."

Four-year-old german shepherd Thames was found on Sunday afternoon "a bit ribby", with a slightly sore foot, but safe and well, after going missing in the Tararua Range west of Carterton during a search and rescue exercise last weekend.

Constable Mike Wakefield walks out of Mt Holdsworth bush with his police dog Thames.
Ross Giblin

Constable Mike Wakefield walks out of Mt Holdsworth bush with his police dog Thames.

"He just sort of popped up and there he is, I think he got as much of a fright as we did," Wakefield said.

"I was pretty happy, pretty excited, just elation really. I gave him a cuddle."

He and search and rescue volunteer John McCann, an expert navigator in the rugged area, followed fresh tracks found on Saturday and again on Sunday morning until they found Thames about 1pm, sheltering below a bush on the exposed High Ridge, which rises to about 1000 metres in the Mt Holdsworth area.

Constable Mike Wakefield and Thames, safe at last in the Mt Holdsworth car park.
Ross Giblin

Constable Mike Wakefield and Thames, safe at last in the Mt Holdsworth car park.

After intensive searches by police and search and rescue teams for most of last week failed to find any sign of him, the search was being wound down. But Wakefield and his colleagues, especially Wairarapa police search and rescue co-ordinator Senior Constable Tony Matheson, refused to give up and the official search was extended for a last-ditch effort over the weekend.

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They found a print of what looked like Thames's "big boofy foot" and tracked him until he appeared. Startled, he ran off – until Wakefield sat down and got food out.

"I whistled and called but he ran off as if to say 'come this way' before running back and giving me a big lick," Wakefield said.

"He wolfed down half of my salami which is a treat for him, I gave him a cuddle and we had a big play.  I was just lost for words."

Thames had lost some weight but was in surprisingly good condition, with just a slight limp. He might have eaten moss and maybe the odd rat to keep going, Wakefield said.

Wakefield's first phone call, made immediately from the ridge, was to his wife and two young sons, anxiously awaiting news of the dog who was not only 50 per cent of Wairarapa's dog squad, but also a loved family pet.

They raced to the area and tramped in to meet them, and the group emerged about 5pm to cheers from a crowd of trampers, police and well-wishers, including Carterton Mayor John Booth.

Wellington police dog section boss Senior Sergeant Mark Davidson said he was close to giving up hope that Thames would be found alive. "It's a fantastic ending ... After five days, I thought it was not going to end well."

The loss of Thames would have been a heavy blow, since he was one of only two Wairarapa-based police dogs, and Wakefield would have had to start from scratch with a young replacement.

It was fitting Wakefield had personally found his lost companion, after a huge effort combing very difficult terrain. "He's one of those determined guys," Davidson said.

Wakefield said police were looking at ways to avoid a repeat of the unusual incident, believed to have happened when Thames followed the scent of another group of people taking part in last weekend's exercise and became separated from Wakefield, who was bush-bashing down a spur. He also hoped Thames had "learned his lesson".  

But for now, he and Thames will visit the vet and enjoy a well-deserved break. "Recoup, refresh, then try and get back out and catch some burglars."

A bright-eyed Thames just seemed delighted to be back, with his tongue lolling and head high, straining at his leash to get to proferred pats, and barking excitedly at the sight of a rugby ball.

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