A gifted search and rescue dog, who spent seven months rehabilitating from a serious hind legs injury, has helped find a missing hunting couple on her first return to action.
A husband and wife, both aged in their forties, got lost while hunting in the Kaimai Ranges on Sunday.
Although they didn't have a compass, the pair had a cellphone and did the right thing after realising they were lost by ringing police early on and staying put.
As is often the case, Waikato Police relied heavily on the support of civilian volunteers from Land-SAR.
Specialist search and rescue (SAR) dog Gemma and her handler Graeme Hill were called in alongside visual tracker Matt Hassard to help find the lost hunters.
Waikato search and rescue co-ordinator, Sergeant Vince Ranger said the successful conclusion of the search was all the more special considering it was the first mission Gemma had undertaken since undergoing significant surgery.
Last year, Gemma suffered a serious injury to her hind legs and required surgery and seven months rehabilitation including physiotherapy and hydrotherapy.
While used by Land-SAR to support police operations, Gemma is not a police dog.
Land-SAR launched a Givealittle page to help raise the $7800 needed to treat her.
"Fortunately, donations received from people across the Waikato and throughout the country raised $7500," said Mr Ranger.
"Those funds and complimentary treatment following her surgery provided to Land-SAR by Hamilton company; 'Hydropaws' meant Gemma and her handler were able to contribute to the success of the operation."
Mr Ranger said Sunday's rescue completed the circle for Gemma of being trained, injured, operated on and then going through rehabilitation and recertification.
"Police believe the wider Waikato community are fortunate to have the skills and dedication of Gemma and her handler and it's thanks to those people who gave a little who enabled them to give a lot," he added.