We remember the heroics and sacrifices made by first responders on September 11, 2001, but the stories of the four legged heroes are not as well known.  In the hours and days after the event rescue dogs worked side by side with their handlers to find victims buried in the rubble. Although not as celebrated as their human counterparts, these brave dogs risked their lives to save those who were trapped.

 

The longest living rescue dog from that day was a Golden Retriever named Bretagne (pronounced Brittnay).  As a 2 year old Bretagne worked side by side with the other rescue workers for ten grueling days locating survivors.  After the events of 9/11/01, Bretagne also worked hard in search, rescue and recovery events after hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ivan.  Formally retiring from search work at age 9, Bretagne continued to work as a goodwill ambassador and a reading assistance dog at her local elementary school.  Bretagne lived nearly 17 years, passing on June 6, 2016. As she entered to animal hospital local firefighter lined the sidewalk and saluted. Her life had such an impact in her community, there is currently a life-size bronze statue of her in a Houston suburb.  On days like today, people can visit the statue to reflect on what a good dog with a big heart can accomplish.

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Bretagne received her dog training from her owner, and handler, Denise Corliss.  Corliss, who was a volunteer firefighter, began training Bretagne at only 8 weeks old.

 

Coby and Guinness were two other dogs who used their extensive dog training to save lives on that fateful day.  These two labrador retrievers worked 12 hour shifts for 11 days straight, their only rewards being a nap or a chew toy.  Together they were able to locate the remains of dozens of people in the rubble and debris. These two dogs used their extensive dog training to bring closure to dozens of families, and for that we can never thank them enough.

 dog training

The story of Jake just might be the most heart warming of all the hero dogs of that day.  Found as a stray and suffering from several serious injuries to his hip and leg, Jake was nursed back to health by a first responder named Mary Flood.  Flood introduced Jake to extensive dog training, which he took to like a natural. On 9/11, jake worked for 17 days helping in the rescue, and eventually, recovery efforts.  In his later years, Jake helped train a new generation of rescue dogs as well as working as a therapy dog at a nursing home in Utah. Jake, the dog who was found hurt and alone, repaid the kindness shown to him by dedicating his life to helping people in trouble.  Although it took a great deal of dog training for Jake to fulfill his destiny, his story is a testament to all the dogs out there. Love, compassion, and effective dog training can allow even the forgotten dogs to become heroes.

 

On this day we rightfully celebrate the first responders who rushed towards danger in order to save lives.  However, during our reflection, let’s remember the hero dogs as well. Bretagne, Cody, Guinness, Jake, and hundreds of other brave dogs risked their lives in order to help.  These dogs worked tirelessly to find trapped civilians and even in the following years used their dog training to offer comfort as emotional support dogs and therapy dogs. As we remember and honor those who lost their lives, let us also remember and honor those dogs who stood by their side.

Life After That Day

The tragic events of that day showed us many things: the strength and resilience of the American people, the selflessness of the first responders, and the value of service dogs in search and rescue operations.  From their training, experience and breed, search and rescue dogs can be classified two ways: air-scenting and trailing dogs.  An air scent dog specifically locates human scent, whereas the trailing dog can be trained to focus on any specific scent, human or no.  A drug or bomb sniffing dog would be an example of a trailing dog as they are trained to focus in on the scent of those particular objects.  The dogs of 9/11 were primarily air-scenting, their dog training involved focusing in on human scents even through piles of rubble and debris.  Search and rescue dogs have since been used in instances of flooding, wildfire, natural disaster, avalanche, drowning and mass casualty events.  When the worst happens, man’s best friend is there to help.