Tribute to 9/11 Search And Rescue Dogs

Originally published

by Cheshire Kitten on 11 September 2011

in the Special World News section of The Anipal Times

This photo was taken September 23, 2001, while FEMA's Urban Search and Rescue teams worked at the World Trade Center site in New York.
This photo was taken September 23, 2001, while FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue teams worked at the World Trade Center site in New York.

Thirteen of the 300 or so search and rescue dogs who responded to the catastrophe of the destroyed World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 are still alive. This is really amazing, because most of the dogs who searched for survivors and found the bodies of the humans who were killed in the attacks are large-breed dogs. Any dog lover knows that large-breed dogs don’t have very long lifespans. What makes these dogs special?

Dr. Cynthia Otto is trying to find out. Dr Otto is a veterinarian who deployed to the World Trade Center site from Pennsylvania with the Pennsylavania Urban Search and Rescue team, according to the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Otto was the first veterinarian to arrive at the attack site and provided care for all of the service dogs working at the scene of the disaster. The number of dogs totals somewhere around 900 when therapy dogs and other dog specialists are included along with search and rescue specialists.

After her work with canine search experts in the debris of the buildings, Dr. Otto went back to Pennsylvania, where she teaches at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and heads the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, and has spent the past 10 years studying the health of search and rescue dogs, especially 95 dogs who worked at the site in Lower Manhattan.

Dr. Otto with canine and human members of the Pennsylvania Urban Search and Rescue team
Dr. Otto with canine and human members of the Pennsylvania Urban Search and Rescue team

Research has found that the 9/11 working dogs came through the experience with remarkably healthy respiratory and immune systems. Unlike the humans who worked in the dust and debris, the dogs have not had a higher tendency for lung disease and cancer when compared to a control group of working dogs. They did have some immune system responses in the first year following their work in 9/11 (some dogs worked 10 days and then returned home while others spent considerably more time in the debris of the attack site).

The average length of life for the 9/11 dogs was 12 years, and some of them have lived to be 16.

Only a few of the dogs who served on 9/11 in New York, Washington or Pennsylvania are still alive, and all have retired from searching. However, they are still getting noticed by the news media.

Red, a 12-year-old Labrador retriever now lives in Annapolis, Maryland, according to the Orlando Sentinel blog, “Animal Crazy.” Red was only 18 months old when she started work in the rubble of the Pentagon on 11 September 2001.

Bretagne, who is 13 now, started work at the World Trade Center site on 12 September, according to the New York Post. She had a year of training before beginning work. After 9/11, she also served during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Today, Bretagne helps out with training and coaches Aid’n, who followed in her footsteps and now accompanies Denise Corliss, a Federal Emergency Management Agency volunteer, on search missions.

Although the attack site has been transformed into a memorial, Dr. Otto isn’t content with the recognition working dogs have received for their contribution to recovery after the attack. She is working with Tails of Hope, a non-profit organization, to create a registry of all the dogs and handlers who took part in the response on 9/11. She will be attending a rededication of the statue that honors the search-and-rescue dogs of 9/11 in Liberty State Park in New Jersey. This monument recently suffered some damage from vandals, according to Newsday, and has been repaired.

On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, working dogs are still on the job. At the time this story went to press, news organizations were reporting that bomb sniffing dogs were responding to what officials call a “credible, but unconfirmed” threat of attack in the area of New York and Washington.

We salute you, working dogs!

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