The best of heroes, as many know, don’t always come on two legs.
Sometimes, they have four, fur, and a tail.
Today marks the 13th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and it seems only fitting to remember those dogs that worked tirelessly at all the sites: the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Now, only two dogs out of the nearly 300 who worked to find and save people trapped in the rubble are still alive today. One, a Springer Spaniel named Morgan, worked at Staten Island after the attacks.
The other, Golden Retriever Bretagne, worked at Ground Zero and is up for the Hero Dog of the Year award, given by the American Humane Association.
Bretagne has not only worked at many disaster sites (not only Ground Zero, but also notably at the 2001 Olympic Winter Games and Hurricane Rita in 2005), she has served as an ambassador for search and rescue dogs everywhere. Although she retired from active search and rescue duty in 2008, her friendly face and wagging tail still travels to elementary schools where she helps 1st graders learn to read.
This week, Bretagne and her pup parent and handler, Corliss, returned to the World Trade Center site for the first time since the attacks, visiting the National September 9/11 Memorial and Museum. As part of Texas Task Force 1, they experience their very first deployment together.
Corliss remembered that in addition to the search and rescue work at the site, Bretagne would constantly offer comfort to other rescue workers and first responders. She recalled a time when Bretagne went up to a firefighter, despite Corliss trying to call her back.
“I was surprised that she wasn’t listening to me, but she really wasn’t — it was like she was flipping me the paw. She went right to that firefighter and laid down next to him and put her head on his lap.”
Many of the search and rescue dogs at the sites like Bretagne, took on the added duty of pet therapy to the first responders and workers without breaking a sweat.
“You’d see firefighters sitting there, unanimated, stone-faced, no emotion, and then they’d see a dog and break out into a smile,” Dr. Cindy Otto, a veterinarian who cared for the Ground Zero search dogs, told NBC’s TODAY. “Those dogs brought the power of hope. They removed the gloom for just an instant — and that was huge because it was a pretty dismal place to be.”
Although Bretagne is one of the only ones left, we remember them all for their service, dedication, and unending ability to bring comfort when most needed.
To vote for Bretagne for Hero Dog of the Year, go online to the site. Voting online remains open until September 15h. For more on some of the Search and Rescue dogs who worked in the aftermath of 9/11, you can check out the book Retrieved, where Dutch photographer Charlotte Dumas captured 12 of the dogs who worked 10 years later. If you’re interested in having your dog work search and rescue, check out the Search Dog Foundation.