Brigadier Vimla Moodley, head of the K9 unit that went to Türkiye, led a team of five sniffer dogs and their handlers.
One of their remarkable feats was finding an 80-year-old Turkish woman alive in rubble, days after the earthquake.
It was SAPS K9 dogs Donna and Optimus that found the woman.
This week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan bestowed a presidential award on Moodley for her rescue efforts.
The director of Gift of the Givers, Imtiaz Sooliman, said there was no one more deserving.
“Her dedication, compassion, care and professionalism did the K9 team, SAPS, and Gift of the Givers a huge credit in Türkiye.
“Working with diligence in very difficult conditions and trying their best to bring closure to thousands of people whose families were caught up in the rubble and of course had passed on.
“Brigadier Moodley was calm, professional, a part of the team and a pure human being.”
Sooliman thanked the Turkish embassy for recognising Moodley and the SAPS for allowing five K9 sniffer dogs and six dog handlers to assist at short notice.
Speaking to IOL from Türkiye, Moodley said she was overwhelmed and grateful to receive the award.
“The only disappointment is that I wish the whole team could have been with me.
“It’s a great honour. I want to thank SAPS for seeing me fit to lead the team and working with Gift of the Givers. It was teamwork and it paid off.”