Remembering the Hero Dogs of September 11th

May 30, 2022 5 min read

 September 11th Search and Rescue Dogs

When the World Trade Center North and South Towers fell on September 11th, over 10,000 emergency rescue workers rushed to help survivors and help recover the bodies of those lost to the attack. Of the 10,000 rescue workers, there were over 300 teams of search and rescue dogs and handlers. These teams came in from all over the country; some were trained for urban rescue, while more than half were trained for more wilderness rescue missions. Regardless, they still rushed in to help. With the buildings still burning and debris still falling, these rescue teams went to work, risking the lives of the canines and the handlers to try to save and recover as many people as possible.

For more than two weeks after the attacks, these rescue dogs continued their search, working 12-hour days for an average of 10 days straight. Many of these dogs suffered cuts, scrapes, heat exhaustion, and burns during their search. Unfortunately, even with their tiresome search, only 20 survivors were pulled from the debris, with the last survivor being pulled from the rubble 27 hours after the collapse, found by Trackr, a retired police dog from Canada.

With most of the rescue dogs and their handlers being trained to rescue live survivors, many of the dogs quickly started showing signs of depression after only finding dead body after dead body. Several handlers begin to stage “mock find” rescues for the dogs to lift their spirits. The hundreds of rescues dogs also did a job that they weren’t even trained to do -- lift the spirits of the other rescue workers. The search scene was a living hell, only finding dead bodies and working long days, morale was being crushed. However, with the never-ending drive and eagerness from the dogs, they were a ray of sunshine that kept morale alive.

 Riley September 11th Search and Rescue Dog

Riley

You are surely to have seen the image of Riley being transported over a 60 foot deep debris canyon of the World Trade Center, taken by US Navy Journalist 1st Class Preston Keres. Riley was a Golden Retriever trained in search in rescue of still-living victims, but like almost all the rescue dogs, Riley only recovered bodies his entire time at Ground Zero. With Riley getting depressed with not finding survivors, his handler did his best to encourage and tell him he was doing a great job. Riley was successful in another job though; he provided comfort to those around him, often receiving hugs from firefighters and police officers searching nearby. Riley went on to live a long life, though he did suffer from some skin conditions sustained from 9/11 rescue mission, dying at the age of 13 from cancer.

 

Coby and Guinness

Black and yellow Labrador Retrievers from southern California both searched 12 hours shifts for 11 days straight. Together, they found the remains of several bodies. Both were trained for smaller debris piles and less crowded areas. Though not specifically trained for such an environment, both dogs went above and beyond. “The magnitude of the area they covered was a lot more than what we ever trained for… They were covering a huge area, several stories underground and several stories above,” said Graves, their handler. Coby, the black lab, died in 2011, shortly after filming “Before the Barks”, which is an educational series on rescue dogs. Guinness, the yellow lab, went on to work with Graves’ wife, Shalia McKee, at Riverside Task Force 6 as a search and rescued dog after 9/11. Guinness went on to work at search operations at Hurricane Katrina, the La Conchita Mudslide, and wilderness searches with the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department. As of an article in 2011, Guinness was 15 years old. I was unable to find a date of his death.

 

Apollo

The first canine on the scene was Apollo and his handler, Peter Davis, arriving only 15 minutes after the attack. Apollo was a German Shepard serving on the New York Police Department. During the Apollo’s search, he was nearly killed by flames and falling debris. Luckily, right before the incident, Apollo had fallen into a pool of water and was drenched. Being wet saved him from being burned. After his handler removed the debris, Apollo went right back to searching. Apollo later would help out during a hurricane in the Dominican Republic. Apollo died in November of 2006 at the estimated age of 13-14. He was awarded the Dickin Medal, which is the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. In 2002, he was honored for his work at the Westminster Kennel club Dog Show along with several other New York Police Department K-9 unit.

 

Trakr

As stated earlier, Trakr was recognized with helping find the last survivor at Ground Zero. Genelle Guzman-McMillian was found trapped in the South Tower 27 hours after the tower’s collapse. Trakr was a German Shepherd born in Prague, that traveled down from Nova Scotia, Canada to help search and rescue at Ground Zero.  On September 14, Trakr collapsed from chemical and smoke inhalation, burns, and exhaustions. He was treated with intravenous fluids and recovered. In his later years, Trakr suffered from degenerative myelopathy and lost the use of his rear legs, likely a result of chemical and smoke inhalation during the 9/11 search. Trakr was sent to Pawspice and was outfitted with a cart so that he could continue to move around using his front legs. He died in April 2009, at the estimated age of 14-15. Trakr’s DNA was used to create five clone puppies named Trustt, Solace, Valor, Prodigy, and Deju Vu. All five puppies went on to be trained as search and rescue dogs.

 

Bretagne

The last known 9/11 rescue dog to pass away was Bretagne, a Golden Retriever. She died on June 6, 2016 at the age of 16. Bretagne worked at Ground Zero for 10 days along with her handler, Denise Corliss. After 9/11, Bretagne would go on to help during Hurricane Rita, Katrina, and Ivan. After retiring from search and rescue, she went on to work at a local elementary school as a reading dog, giving shy students someone to read to.

 

Conclusion

We were only able to touch on a few of the 300 search and rescue dogs that helped during 9/11. Their long hours and tiresome days at Ground Zero helped find countless bodies and to lift the spirits of those around them. Many of them would continue on to help during other large disasters and have long careers.

September 11th Search and Rescue Dogs

I hope you all enjoyed looking back at these heroes that, no matter the tasks, were ready, willing, and tail wagging.

Thank you for remembering those that were lost.

  • Michael Cassatt, LCS Director of Marketing

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