9-11 Search and Rescue Dogs – Let Us Never Forget

Today we observe the 15th anniversary of those fatal attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC. But as we remember all those we lost on that infamous day, let us not forget the extremely important our best friend (the 9-11 rescue dogs) played in its aftermath.

Nearly 350 search and rescue dogs were deployed and worked tirelessly to find missing persons during the devastating attacks on September 11, 2001 in New York City. These dogs found both living and deceased victims during their searches. They also comforted law enforcement officers, firefighters and many others during their long days.

Last of the 9-11 Rescue Dogs – Bretagne

On June 6, 2016, Bretagne (pronounced Britney), the last of the heroic rescue dogs participating in search and rescue at the World Trade Center, was put to sleep. Her age and life had caught up to her. She was a Golden Retriever.

Rescue dogs at World Trade Center

World Trade Center, New York September, 21, 2001 — FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue teams search for survivors amongst the wreckage of the World Trade Center while one of the rescue dogs takes a needed break. Andrea Booher/FEMA News Photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bretagne had just graduated from Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service Search and Rescue Training Center (Called Disaster City) in College Station, Texas when she and her owner, Denise Corliss were called to New York City. Like most search and rescue dogs, Bretagne did not find any survivors, but she showed another talent. Many of the firefighters and other rescuers were fond of petting her, and sharing their personal stories with Denise. So, Bretagne also became a great therapy dog for those affected rescuers. All while working 12 hours a day, seven days a week!

Bretagne had many other opportunities to perform the search and rescue duties she so enjoyed. She was deployed after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as many other storms. And even after she could no longer perform search and rescue, she still helped society, this time by teaching children to read! Yes, young children too embarrassed to read in front of the class did not have a problem reading to Bretagne!

When her time had past, she was given a hero’s farewell, with many firefighters and rescuers lining the sidewalk as her body was carried out from the Vet, draped in the American flag.

What About the Other Search and Rescue dogs?

There are two fronts to attack this question. Physical and emotional.

As you probably know, there have been many ailments reported among the rescuers that are directly attributed to their rescue efforts. However, it appears that the rescue dogs did not share this propensity for illness, as a study of 97 World Trade Center search dogs by the University of Pennsylvania showed. But that study was performed five years later, and many cancers take longer than that to show up.

Emotionally, many of the dogs were disappointed and even depressed on not being able to find living people amongst the rubble. In fact, some rescuers purposely hid themselves in the rubble to allow a dog to find and “rescue” them. Without finding survivors, the dogs did not feel they were doing the job they were there to do. Many handlers reported depression and stress related behavior changes as a result of the search for survivors in NYC.

So, as you observe this day, remember that among all the great women and men who sacrificed so much in the aftermath, there also stood many unsung rescue dogs. Give your dog a hug today! And watch Bretagne’s last birthday party below…it will bring tears to your eyes!

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