In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, over 350 trained search and rescue dogs responded to Ground Zero and the Pentagon. The dogs were extremely important in locating human victims, by using their sense of smell and agility to direct workers to the location of those injured and deceased. The aftermath of 9/11 saw the largest deployment of SAR (search-and-rescue) dogs in U.S. history. In addition, 300 therapeutic dogs were deployed to help comfort people.
Among the most popular dog breeds to be used were German Shepherds, Australian Shepherds, Belgian Shepherds, Yellow Labradors, Black Labradors, Chocolate Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Portuguese Waterdogs, Belgian Malinois, Border Collies, and Rat Terriers. The dogs worked 16 hours a day, and usually stayed on site for 7 to 14 days. In 2011, it was reported that only 12 dogs that responded to Ground Zero in New York after 9/11 were still alive.
Some of the owners of the rescue dogs have claimed that their pets were negatively impacted by the toxic air of Ground Zero. In response, a $400,000 grant was issued to FEMA in order to study the health effects of the dogs that worked at the World Trade Center site. The study found that there is no pattern of major health concerns for the SAR dogs. However, different studies have challenged the findings, and argued that a disproportionally large number of the dogs have died from upper respiratory distress.
This article is dedicated to the hundreds of SAR and therapeutic dogs that helped people during the 9/11 rescue effort. It was hard to limit the list to only ten, because each one involved is noteworthy, heroic and, overall, a very very good dog.
Breed: Golden Retriever
In 2011, Dutch photographer Charlotte Dumas traveled around the United States and photographed the 12 living dogs that participated at Ground Zero in New York. Dumas then published the portraits in a book named Retrieved. The book describes each of the dog’s heroic tales. Among the dogs highlighted are Moxie, Tara, Kaiser, Guinness, Merlyn, Red, Abigail, Tuff, Hoke, and Bretagne.
On September 12, 2001, Denise Corliss and Bretagne, who were members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, arrived in New York to help search for victims. At Ground Zero, Bretagne did not work with a leash, and was given the ability to move freely over the rubble. Bretagne searched huge piles of debris full of broken glass and twisted medal. She wiggled into small spaces, crawled into dark holes, and discovered multiple deceased victims.
The terrain was extremely dangerous and slippery. The ground was wet because of multiple fire hoses. Every night, Bretagne was given a decontamination bath, and her eyes, ears, and mouth were rinsed out. After 9/11, Bretagne responded to both Hurricane Katrina and Rita. She has since retired and lives with Denise Corliss. Bretagne remains in good spirit, and is an energetic dog. Whenever Corliss goes to work, Bretagne wants to follow.
Denise Corliss remembered Bretagne on 9/11: “It was her first mission, but she worked it like a pro. She didn’t get cut up, fall down, or get hurt. Firefighters would often come by and pet her, talk to her, and tell her stories.”
Many different forms of rescue dog contributed on 9/11, including therapy dogs. A therapy dog is a special kind of animal, trained to be extremely friendly to humans. Therapy dogs love to make people happy. In the wake of September 11, the Hope Crisis Team of Eugene, Oregon responded with a special squad, including Tikva, one of the organization’s best therapy dogs.
Tikva was born in 1999. She is a Keeshound, which is an extremely smart breed of dog. After arriving in New York, Tikva became one of the most famous therapy dogs. Her job was to stand by and comfort anybody that approached. Her presence helped ease the anxieties of the overwhelmed rescue workers. One of the most important tasks of Tikva was to travel the 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland to Ground Zero. After the attacks, people regularly made the voyage to say goodbye to their loved ones who died in Lower Manhattan.
During the boat trips, Tikva would walk around and interact with the passengers. She would bury her face in people’s hands, or tap her nose in order to comfort them. Tikva was among the 318 therapy dogs that worked at Pier 94 after 9/11. Today, her overall health is good, but Tikva has been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis. She is currently living with Cindy Ehlers in Eugene, Oregon.
Cindy Ehlers recalled: “Some people never said a word all day, but when Tikva was ready to leave, they would turn to me and ask if I would bring her back tomorrow.”
Breed: Rat Terrier
In 1998, Ricky was born and adopted by Janet Linker, who is a Seattle firefighter and dispatcher. At a young age, Ricky displayed incredible intelligence, and became a member of the Puget Sound Urban Search and Rescue team. Being a Rat Terrier, Ricky was extremely small, only 17 inches (0.43 meters) tall and weighing 18 pounds. In 2001, Ricky was the smallest search dog in the United States. On September 19, 2001, Ricky and Linker were called to Ground Zero in New York to help in the rescue effort. The pair traveled with three other rescue dogs and 62 firefighters. The Puget Sound group was one of 28 elite teams that were coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
After arriving at Ground Zero, Ricky and another rescue dog, Thunder, were given the night shift. Since Ricky was so small, he was able to reach locations that larger dogs couldn’t. He had the ability to climb ladders, run complex patterns for recognition, and could determine the difference between living and deceased people. In some cases, Ricky would disappear from Linker’s view for several minutes. When he located a hit, Ricky was able to bark continually for long periods of time, which is unlike other rescue dog breeds. He was not distracted by noise, and would search until told to stop.
For ten consecutive days, Ricky and Thunder searched the buckled subway tunnels and stairwells of New York and located multiple victims. They also recovered some personal items, such as jewelry and clothing, which were kept for the victims’ families. After returning to Seattle, Ricky and Thunder were honored by the City Council, and adorned with official patches, which displayed their courage. As of 2011, Ricky is deceased, but it is unclear exactly when he passed away.
Janet Linker described the horrible scene of Ground Zero: “To me, it was unrecognizable. I never saw steps. I never saw handrails. It was rare that you’d find a softball-sized chunk of concrete. The only intact thing was the paper.”
Breed: Belgian Shepherd Dog
The majority of dogs that responded to 9/11 worked in shifts of 7 to 14 days, which helped limit the animal’s risk of respiratory illness. However, one dog named Hansen stands out for his incredible longevity and dedication to the search. In the aftermath of 9/11, retired NYPD officer Steve Smaldon was called to Ground Zero with Hansen, a 7-year-old Belgian Shepherd Dog. In 2001, Hansen had a decorated record and was a great search dog. In total, he worked with Smaldon at Ground Zero for approximately 150 days, which is far longer than most dogs who participated in the rescue effort.
After his service in New York, Hansen was given multiple rewards in recognition for his work. One such honor was a large memorial statue that was placed in Lindenhurst, on New York’s Long Island, to honor all 9/11 rescue dogs.
In 2011, a report surfaced that the statue of Hansen in Lindenhurst was vandalized beyond repair. The culprits jumped over the fence and smashed the heavy statue into pieces. It was a horrible act and the NYPD conducted a long, but unsuccessful, search for the criminals. Steve Smaldon responded with the quote: “I can’t believe that somebody would not respect 9/11 and not understand 9/11 and do something like that.”
A couple weeks after the statue was destroyed, a new bronze replica of Hansen was constructed and displayed in the park. The new statue was re-dedicated at the 10th anniversary of 9/11. It is currently surrounded by a new security system with video cameras. In addition to the statue, the park in Lindenhurst has plaques dedicated to eight residents who died in the 9/11 attacks. In 2004, Hansen died at the age of 11.
At his funeral, Steve Smaldon remembered his friend: “He helped give people hope in the middle of tragedy. Hansen always showed up with a wagging tail, ready to work. He will greatly be missed.”
Breed: Black Labrador
In 1995, Jake was abandoned by his owner in Utah. At the age of 10 months, he was discovered on the street with several injuries, including a dislocated hip and broken leg. Jake was adopted by Mary Flood, who worked for a federal search and rescue team in Salt Lake City. After he was saved, Jake became a U.S. government-certified rescue dog. At the time, he was one of only 200 dogs in the United States that were trained to respond within 24 hours to disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, water rescue, terrorist attacks, or avalanches.
Jake excelled at tracking scents in difficult places, including under the snow and up trees. On September 11, 2001, Jake and Mary Flood were called to New York to help in the search effort. After the pair arrived, Jake was equipped with a safety vest and immediately went to work. On the night of September 11, he was given a free steak dinner by an upscale Manhattan restaurant, in preparation for the grueling search effort. Jake worked at the World Trade Center site for 17 days, and was exposed to multiple physical hazards, including sharp debris and unhealthy air. He stayed at Ground Zero until it was certain that no survivors remained.
After 9/11, Jake helped search for victims of Hurricane Katrina and Rita. In his later career, he was used to train younger rescue dogs and to help people in therapy. Sadly, Jake was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, a blood borne cancer in the 2000s, and was euthanized on July 25, 2007. He was 12-years-old. It is unknown whether Jake’s cancer can be linked to his work at Ground Zero, but it should be noted that many black Labradors die from cancer at the age of 12 every year.
Mary Flood spoke of her dog: “He was a great morale booster wherever he went. He was always ready to work, eager to play, and a master at helping himself to any unattended food items.”
Breed: Black Labrador
This list is comprised almost entirely of ground Zero dogs, but one particularly heroic canine helped huge in the DC area as well. Red is a 12-year-old Black Labrador, who responded to the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon. For multiple days, Red worked on a 27-dog team that was given the task of finding DNA evidence in the Pentagon’s north parking lot. She worked with purpose, and achieved everything that was asked. In 2012, Red made headlines, when it was announced that she underwent stem cell regenerative therapy to help cure crippling arthritis.
Red’s handler, Heather Roche, commented upon Red’s retirement from full-time service, saying “no matter what I asked her to do — whether it was climbing up things, going somewhere (as) I stayed far away, ladders, you name it — she did it every single time and she did it perfectly…with her, you know she’s earned the right to do anything she wants.”
Breed: Yellow Labrador
Officially, the only police dog known to have been killed during the September 11 terrorist attacks is Sirius. Sirius worked with Sergeant David Lim as the Explosive Detector Team of the World Trade Center. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Sirius and his handler, Sergeant David Lim, were performing a routine search of the South Tower when the North Tower was attacked. David Lim initially thought that he and Sirius had made a big mistake, and missed an explosive device in the North Tower. He told the dog: “I think we’re in a lot of trouble. I will be back for you.” With those words, Lim locked Sirius in his kennel and rushed to the North Tower to help victims.
Lim continued to run from the South Tower all the way to North Tower’s 44th floor before he heard the South Tower collapse. On 9/11, the North Tower was hit first, but the South Tower collapsed first. After hearing the explosion, Lim instantly started to retreat down the North Tower. When he reached the 4th floor, he joined a group of firefighters who were saving a woman named Josephine Harris. At this point, the North Tower collapsed on Lim and the firefighters. Miraculously, after the building fell, Lim, Harris, and all the firefighters were alive in Stairwell B on the 4th floor of the North Tower.
After five grueling hours, the group was rescued. They remain part of the 14 people to survive the collapse of the 110-story building. As Lim crawled to safety, he cried out for his K-9 partner Sirius, who was left in what used to be the South Tower. The body of Sirius, still inside the kennel, wasn’t recovered until January 22, 2002. Sirius was killed instantly during the collapse of the South Tower, and received full Police Honors.
When Lim was told about the recovery, he came to the scene and carried out his friend’s body, draped in the American flag. A memorial service was held for Sirius at Liberty State Park, which was attended by 400 people, including 100 K-9 teams from across the country. A park in New York is named in honor of Sirius the dog.
Lim remembered Sirius: “We were very close. Whatever I asked him to do, he did. He never complained. Sometimes we’d be working for long hours, searching hundreds of cars or trucks, and he’d just look at me like, what do you want me to do now.”
3. Salty and Roselle
Breed: Labrador Retrievers
Salty was a New York City guide dog that was trained in 1998. On September 11, 2001, Salty was on the 71st floor of the North Tower in the World Trade Center when the building was attacked. He was standing next to his owner, Omar Rivera, who was an employee for the headquarters of the Port Authority of New York. After the plane hit, Salty jumped into action and began to guide Rivera down the 71 floors.
Omar Rivera is completely blind. As he traveled down the stairs, he heard debris falling, the building swaying, and the walls cracking. Rivera became worried for the safety of his dog, so he let Salty off the leash. In response, Salty did not run away, continued to tug at the pants of Rivera, and helped him move down the stairs. At one point during the hour-long journey, Salty was separated from Rivera, but he quickly returned to his owner’s side and helped Omar to safety.
At the same time, another dog named Roselle was guiding his owner, Michael Hingson, out of the same building. Hingson was a computer sales manager who was working on the 78th Floor of the North Tower on September 11, 2001. At the time of the attack, Hingson was sitting with Roselle approximately 18 floors below the crash site.
After the plane hit, Roselle calmly took Hingson to stairwell B and, despite the smoke, confusion, falling debris, and noise, the dog led his owner down 1,463 steps to safety. After descending over half the distance, Roselle and Hingson passed a group of firemen who were heading up the stairs. Roselle stopped to greet the men and gave them some encouragement. Sadly, most of the firemen would later die in the collapse of the North Tower. The descent took Roselle and Hingson just over an hour to complete. As they emerged, the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed, and a large amount of debris was sent flying in all directions.
After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Michael Hingson published a novel about his experiences with Roselle. Hingson also gave several public appearances and helped raise awareness for guide dogs. In 2004, Roselle was diagnosed with immune-mediated thrombocytopenia, and died in 2011. On March 5, 2002, Salty and Roselle were awarded a joint Dickin Medal, which is presented to honor the work of animals. It was only the second time in history that a joint medal had been given out. In 2011, Roselle was posthumously named American Hero Dog of the Year by the American Humane Society.
Caroline McCabe-Sandler remembered training Salty: “Salty was a beautiful, cream-colored Labrador. He had a stable temperament and a strong work ethic. Some dogs like the slower pace of the country, but Salty liked the fast pace of the city. He was definitely a city dog.”
Breed: German Shepherd
Apollo was born in 1992. By 1994, he graduated from the NYPD Canine Special Operations Division, which was one of the first units in the United States to teach and deploy search-and-rescue dogs. From 1994-2001, Apollo was one of New York’s best police dogs, and contributed to multiple arrests. He was a member of the first NYPD K-9 team to train in Urban Search and Rescue settings.
On September 11, 2001, Apollo and his handler, Peter Davis, were called to assist in the World Trade Center rescue effort. The pair arrived at the scene fifteen minutes after the collapse of the South Tower, making Apollo the first SAR dog to arrive. Among the chaos, Apollo quickly went to work and assisted injured victims. At one point, he was almost killed by falling debris and fire, but was saved because he had recently fallen into a large pool of water.
For several weeks, Apollo worked 18 hours a day in hopes of finding living victims. He was given a daily bath to wash his body of dangerous contaminants, and provided workers with moral support. In 2001, Apollo received the American Kennel Club Ace award. On March 5, 2002, he was given the Dickin Medal (along with Salty and Roselle) on behalf of all search dogs who participated in the 9/11 rescue effort. Apollo died in November of 2006 after suffering from health problems.
Peter Davis remembered Apollo: “Apollo was an enthusiastic dog that loved to search. After several days at Ground Zero he became weak and was eventually forced to stop out of exhaustion. “
Breed: German Shepherd
In 1994, Trakr was born and trained in the Czech Republic. He joined the Halifax Regional Police in Nova Scotia, Canada, at the age 14 months. For six years, Trakr worked for the police and helped arrest dozens of criminals. In May of 2001, Trakr was prematurely retired from the department after his handler, James Symington, filed a complaint to prevent the death of Trakr and other retiring K9’s.
On September 11, 2001, Symington was at home with Trakr when he witnessed the World Trade Center collapse and subsequent search and rescue operations on television. In response, Symington immediately drove 15 hours from Prospect Bay, Nova Scotia to Manhattan. He arrived with Trakr on the morning of September 12 and went to work. At approximately 6am, Trakr discovered signs of life under the rubble, and firefighters found Genelle Guzman, the last of the 20 survivors who had been inside the buildings when they collapsed. At the time of the collapse, Guzman was on the 13th floor of the South Tower. She was trapped for approximately 26 hours before Trakr found her.
For the next three days, Trakr worked day and night in search of human life. By September 14, he suffered from smoke and chemical inhalation. Trakr eventually collapsed, and was treated with intravenous fluids, as many dogs that responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks were. Trakr eventually returned home with Symington to Prospect Bay. Once they returned, Symington was suspended by the Halifax police for participating in rescue efforts in NY without permission.
In response, Symington quit the Halifax police and moved to Los Angeles, California with Trakr. Symington began acting, and has since appeared in a number of soap operas. While living in California, Trakr was diagnosed with degenerative myelopathy, which is a neurological disease. He lost the use of his hind legs, but was given a powered cart to enable movement. Similar to other dogs that responded to 9/11, some experts have attributed Trakr’s condition to inhaling lethal smoke at the World Trade Center site.
Trakr lived for eight more years after 9/11 and died in April 2009, at the age of 16. Shortly before his death, Trakr won a contest and was named the world’s most “clone-worthy” dog. In response, samples of his DNA were used to clone five puppies: Trustt, Solace, Valor, Prodigy, and Déjà Vu. All of the puppies survived the operation, and continue to live. Trakr has also been named one of history’s most heroic animals by Time magazine.
James Symington wrote: “Once in a lifetime, a dog comes along that not only captures the hearts of all he touches, but also plays a private role in history.”