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.
This 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.
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.
A 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.