Remembering September 11: Honouring the service dogs
As America marked the 18th anniversary of the worst terror attack on US soil Wednesday, many remembered the countless lives lost and selfless acts by the brave responders on 11 September 2001, both human and four-legged. Nearly 3 000 people were killed when terrorist-piloted aircraft slammed into the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. Thousands of fire fighters and emergency medical personnel responded to Ground Zero, including more than 350 specialised canine search and rescue teams in the days following. But according to the American Kennel Club, only about 100 were prepared for the size of the disaster. Men and women of law enforcement and fire rescue courageously faced the devastation alongside everyday citizens. The search and rescue dogs worked tirelessly in the tragic aftermath searching for survivors and after, searching for human remains. Sifting through the jagged rubble and blinded by smoke and debris, the dogs battled exhaustion and emotional distress.
After hours of searching and finding no one alive, some handlers would ask for a volunteer to hide amidst the rubble to be “located”, helping to raise the dogs’ spirits. Even when the search mission became one of recovery instead of rescue, the dogs carried on diligently, providing what little peace they could for the families of the victims.
Bretagne was two when she and her handler, Denise Corliss, were part of the Texas Task Force 1 sent to the World Trade Centre site in Lower Manhattan, according to Fox News. They spent 10 days at the scene searching rubble for human remains. She was the last known SAR dog that was at ground zero. She also worked rescue missions at Katrina and Ivan. One of her greatest contributions was acting as a spokesperson for the dogs of 9/11. She died on 7 June 2016 at age 16.
Trakr was a German Shepherd who responded with his Canadian police officer handler, James Symington. The team is credited with finding the last remaining survivor from the World Trade Centre after she had been trapped for hours. Two days after arriving and searching for survivors, the dog collapsed from smoke inhalation, exhaustion and burns and was treated before returning to Canada, according to TIME. Trakr was awarded the sixth spot on TIME’s published list of Top 10 Heroic Animals. Trakr was driven down from Nova Scotia by his handler. He found the last known survivor from ground zero, Genelle Guzman. When his handler, Symington, was seen on TV by his department in Canada, he was suspended for leaving without permission. Trakr died in April 2009.
Riley was the subject of an iconic K-9 photo from the September 11th attacks. The Golden Retriever was formally trained to locate survivors of the attacks, searching Ground Zero through the nights following as part of FEMA’s Pennsylvania Task Force 1, according to the American Kennel Club. The picture of Riley captured the hearts of people around the world and moved many to action. Riley was trained to find living people and was not trained to be a cadaver dog. Despite this he continued to work tirelessly. Riley passed away on 26 February 2010.
Bear found both FDNY 1st Fire Commissioner William Feehan and FDNY Chief Peter Ganci as well as many other victims of the WTC. There is a Memorial to Bear at the FDNY/EMS Academy in New York from those who knew and loved him, for what he did those days. In those first terrible hours it was his nose that led us. The Scots Guards were the first to honour Bear (at St John the Devine) after the WTC incident (arranged by Parks Enforcement Commissioner Jack Lynn). His handler, Capt Scott Shield said, “Almost a year later we were invited to take part in another ceremony to honour him. It was to be the last time he was out in public. This is a video of the last day Bear was out in public. He was honoured by the Scots Guards in a Park nearby City Hall. After Bear passed away I received a telephone call to meet the British military attache in New York. He handed me a packet with a plaque inside. It was a Bagpipe Song written by the Scots Guards to honour Bear’s life....They were the first and last to honour him while he was alive. The pipe song was entitled, ‘Lament to the Golden Bear’.”
Appollo, a German Shepherd who worked with the first NYPD K-9 Urban Search and Rescue team, responded with his handler, Peter Davis. They were the first K-9 search and rescue team to respond to the site, arriving at the South Tower just 15 minutes after its collapse. Appollo looked for survivors for 18 hours a day for weeks, according to the American Kennel Club. He nearly died from falling flames and only survived because he previously fell in water and was still wet. He died in November of 2006.
A yellow lab named Sirius was the only known K-9 to die in the attacks. He was an explosive detection K9. Sirius was in the basement below the World Trade Centre’s South Tower with his handler, Port Authority Police Department Lt David Lim, when they felt the building “violently tremble,” according to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Lim secured Sirius in his kennel and went to assist the injured, telling his partner, "I'll be back for you." Sirius' remains were later recovered in the winter of 2002 in the wreckage of the South Tower and ceremoniously removed from Ground Zero with a full honour guard.
Worf, a German Shepherd with a gentle soul, found the remains of two fire fighters on his first day and had to be immediately retired. He stopped eating and was so affected that he shut down. His handler Mike Owens said, "He kind of withdrew from everything. There was so much death there, it was emotional for the dogs."
The smallest dog working search and rescue at Ground Zero was Ricky, a Rat Terrier who stood at just 17 inches tall. His size allowed him to squeeze into places that other dogs couldn’t and he searched the ruins for 10 days straight on the night shift with his trainer, Janet Linker of the Seattle Fire Department. He found bodies of several victims.
Hansen, a Belgian Shepherd Dog, worked on site for 150 days alongside his handler, Steve Smaldon, then-chief of the Lindenhusrt Fire Department. Hansen found the body of NYPD Officer John William Perry, who had been hours away from retiring when the attacks occurred, but rushed into the chaos to help anyway. The same day, Hansen also located the body of Sgt Michael Curtin, a Marine Corps veteran who had been with the NYPD for 13 years. “(Sgt Curtin’s) complete body was recovered,” Smaldon told author Ron Burns. “Even being able to read his name on his uniform. Curtin had been a Marine before becoming a police officer. He had helped dig out a Marine who was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. This was a proud day for me and Hansen to bring home two of our own.”
Kaiser was deployed to ground zero. He worked 12 hour shifts for 10 days straight. “He injured his foot during the rescue effort. The veterinarian stitched him back up. His cries showed just how painful it was but for the record, Kaiser was back on the job the very next day.”
The service dogs that responded to the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks, have not been forgotten. However, monuments to their service are few compared to those devoted to two legged responders. On Wednesday 17 August 2016, New Jersey officials gathered at the Essex County Eagle Rock September 11th Memorial in West Orange to do their part to change that. They dedicated a new commemorative statue honouring the Search and Rescue Dogs of 9/11.
The four-foot tall bronze dog sits atop a 12-inch slab of granite and weighs nearly 5 000 pounds. It was designed by Oregon artist, Jay Warren and paid for by corporate donations. The West Orange 9/11 Memorial opened in 2002, almost exactly one year after the attacks. The park overlooks Manhattan across the water. Citizens once gathered there, helplessly witnessing the chaos at Ground Zero.
In a press release for the commemoration of the new statue, Newark Public Safety Director, Anthony Ambrose said, “Search dogs covered 16 acres of land at Ground Zero covered with metal and debris and went where humans could not go. This is a fitting way to remember how many families gained some sort of closure because of the work by dogs.”
The presence of the dogs at the recovery sites had an even greater impact than many may realise. Dutch photographer, Charlotte Dumas is the author of the 2011 book, Retrieved featuring the stories and portraits of 9/11 canines. She interviewed Denise Corliss, handler of famous 9/11 FEMA search dog, Bretagne. Dumas recounted an emotional narrative from her time with Corliss to Daily Mail UK, “She told me a touching story of one fireman who was there in the rubble and how taken he was with Bretagne who comforted him as he sat down to catch his breath. Years later at a Remembrance Ceremony, the same fireman recognised Bretagne and her handler and they had a touching reunion. It developed that even though the dogs couldn't find people still alive, they could provide comfort for the brave firemen and rescue workers of the emergency services.”
We honour all first responders including the four-legged ones for their dedication and service. RESPECT!
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