Tag Archives: therapy animals

9/11 Dogs

Twenty years after, the 9/11 dogs are gone. They searched, rescued, comforted. If you remember the day, you also remember the dogs. Bretagne, the last one, died in June 2016 at almost 17 years old.

Rescue_dog-15-sep-2001-Preston-Keres-US-Navy-wikicommonsThis photo is of SAR dog Riley being lifted from the gnarl of the World Trade Center. Taken by Preston Keres of the US Navy, it says pretty much everything America wanted to say about surviving. Riley died in February 2010 at the age of 13, retired and living with his handler Chris Selfridge.

Bretagne and Riley are just two of the dogs who worked at the sites of attacks on September 11, 2001. Guide dogs Salty and Roselle led their people, and others, out of the World Trade Center as the towers collapsed. Ricky was a Rat Terrier, small enough to fit in spaces the bigger dogs couldn’t. He worked at the WTC site for 10 straight days. Only one dog died at the time of the attacks. Port Authority Police K9 Sirius became trapped when the South Tower started to collapse.

Redefining the role of working dogs

Search and rescue dogs helped find the living amid the rubble, and also the dead. Sniffer dogs and cadaver dogs worked tirelessly in the bowels of rubble, looking for anyone. The dogs, like their handlers, worked beyond their limits. And they comforted people when they took a rest, just by their presence.

9/11 – the World Trade Center, the UA Flight 93 crash, the Pentagon – changed the way SAR dogs are deployed in emergencies and disasters. The scale and type of destruction was much more complicated than the situations where they normally work. Instead of looking through woods or fields for a missing person or two, they were searching for many in a mass of broken building materials.

The environment was different, and so was the task. Instead of looking for either the living or the dead, according to their training, SAR and cadaver dogs quickly adapted to looking for the sign or scent of anyone alive or not. After 9/11, more emergency disaster dogs were trained, and more people and their dogs became involved in rescue work.

After 9/11

The dogs of 9/11 continued to help. Many continued working in search and rescue, deployed in disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005. They also were the subjects of a study on the long-term effects of working amid hazardous ruins. Dr. Cynthia Otto, of the UPenn School of Veterinary Medicine, monitored the health of 95 9/11 dogs for the rest of their lives. She found few differences between those dogs and the control group.

After 9/11, “comfort dogs” became a new specialty for therapy dogs who also trained to work in disasters. The term came from a NYC firefighter who asked “where are those comfort dogs?” while working on the WTC site. They were a big part of the response to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.

TRAKR-Wiki-Photo-1997A Halifax Police dog, Trakr, located the last person found alive 26 hours after the collapse of the towers. Trakr (pictured at right) died in April 2009. But he lives on, literally kind of, with 5 puppies having been cloned from him. They also trained in search and rescue.

There are exhibits about the 9/11 dogs at both the Museum of the Dog and the 9/11 Memorial Museum, both in New York City. The AKC Museum exhibit runs until January 2, 2022 and the 9/11 Museum exhibit, K-9 Courage, until winter 2022.

For more, see Newsweek 9/11/20 Canine Heroes. Also my Dogs in War for other extraordinary military and civilian dogs.

Therapy Visitors

“A woman was here today, a long time. I don’t know who she was. She had a dog. I don’t know if she was lost. But she sat right here, with the dog, talking and talking. I didn’t want to be rude, but I had things to do.”

mom and charlie dog 2012 therapy visitorsMy mother told me this one day at her assisted living home. She didn’t have anything she had to do. She had Alzheimer’s. I doubted that this woman and her dog really existed. But to be sure, I asked the nurse if anyone had been to see Mom. “Today is the day the therapy dog comes,” she said.

I told Mom the names of the dog and woman, and explained. She kind of remembered. But why were they coming to see her, she asked. “He was a cute little fella. But I’ve got my own dogs!” She meant mine who came with me.

“A kid was here!”

Another time, Mom was even more distraught. “A kid was here all morning. I don’t know where her parents were. I thought maybe I was supposed to be babysitting her. But I’m too old for that.” I asked where the kid went. “A nurse took her, thank heaven.”

The nurse told me what I suspected, after the therapy dog incident. School kids visiting nursing home residents. It’s good for the kids and good for the elderly.

Therapy or confusion?

I’ve seen the joy dogs can bring to nursing homes. The residents in Leo being therapy dog at Glendale Crossing 2012Mom’s home were always so happy to see me. When I went alone, I found out who they really wanted to see. “Where are the dogs?” Those who usually smiled and came over, even if they couldn’t speak, didn’t even notice me without dogs. It was the dogs they wanted.

Bearing in mind Mom’s opinion on unsolicited visits, I kept the dogs away from residents who kept away from them. For Mom, the staff made notes on her preferences. She did not mention any more perplexing visits.

waverley-resident-cat-2009Social contact is good therapy for people in long term care. It breaks up their daily routine, the boredom, keeps them connected. Staff do their best but they have the nuts and bolts of care-taking to do. That care-taking must come first. So visitors, of all ages and species, help. But they can also be confusing, especially for those with memory loss. Like for Mom – wondering who is this, do I know them, why are they here.

“Why don’t they ask you?”

“Do-gooders!” Mom spat when I told her why the young girl was with her, “why don’t they ask you first?” Words to keep in mind. Maybe they did ask and explain, and she forgot. Alzheimer’s can cause memory and perception of reality to wander. Frequent cues might help lessen confusion, at least for the moment, about the “who” and “why” of visitors.

The Tao of Horses

“If you knew a horse, you could depend on him and if he was going to do something bad, you could depend on him to do that too. I always understood horses better than I did people.“

This opinion on the staightforwardness of horses is from retired US Captain Thomas Stewart. His story is in The Tao Of Horses: Exploring how horses guide us on our spiritual path by Elizabeth Kaye McCall. At the end of WWII, Capt. Stewart and Dr. Horse stories Lipizzaner 2002 London ONRudolph Lessing, a German army captain and veterinarian, got 200 Lipizzaner stallions and broodmares out of Czechoslovakia before it was given to Russia in the Allied division of territory.

The Lipizzaner story is in the chapter entitled ‘Peace – The unequivocal ambassador’. This book has many such horse stories – individual people and horse breeds that are particular noteworthy in the equestrian world. It’s a small book and it covers a lot of ground. Each chapter focuses on a few people and the breed of horse with which they work. You get the story of the breed, including individual horses, people and their philosophical musings on what horses and their particular branch of equestrian activity gives them mentally and physically. The author adds her own thoughts in short sections at the end of each chapter. She includes a physical or mental exercise as well as travel tips and internet search suggestions.

Horse Stories

I stay well clear of any book with ‘Tao’ in its title, too New Age self-helpish for me. But when I found a copy in a thrift store – why not? I’m very glad I bought it.

Before I read it, I did not know the singer Wayne Newton is a well-respected breeder of Arabian horses. I did not know that the drummer of the 1970s band Three Dog Night, Michael McMeel, was inspired by the movie City Slickers to set up an equestrian programme for Los Angeles “at risk” kids. The book tells the horse stories of people you have heard of. It also tells about those you probably don’t know of but are happy to learn about.

Tao of Horses
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This book is what its title says, a look at the way of horses.  It discusses them and their relationship with humans in all ways – practical, emotional and psychological. You get an easy to understand overview of breeds and equestrian arts. As well, there’s a lot to think about in terms of how horses and humans connect at the heart. Ms. McCall shows the art of dressage, for example, and also explains some technical points of it. You also read about a family who have spent their whole lives in pursuit of this dance between human and horse. You are moved to think about that expression of balance and fluidity in terms of your own life, with and without a horse to share it.

It is a self-help book but it doesn’t outline steps to fix your life. It gives you something better. Food for thought about yourself and your emotional interior and about creatures – human and equine – outside yourself. It also teaches you about horses and equestrian disciplines from reining to racing. A lovely book, and well worth its full price for horse- and non-horse people alike.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Nov. 10, 2011