For more than two weeks after the twin towers collapsed on September 11, hundreds of search and rescue dogs searched the smoldering ruins for signs of life.
Ricky, a 17-inch rat terrier, was able to squeeze into tight spaces. Trakr, a German Shepherd Dog from Canada, combed the rubble for two days – then collapsed from smoke inhalation, exhaustion and burns. Riley, a four-year-old golden retriever, searched deep in the rubble and helped find the bodies of several firefighters.
“We went there expecting to find hundreds of people trapped,” said Chris Selfridge, 54, of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, who was Riley’s carer. “But we didn’t find anyone alive.”
Although there weren’t many survivors to be found amid the destruction, the dogs’ dedication to their work became an inspiring sight for rescue workers and others who witnessed the urgent rescues. With the 20th anniversary of the attacks approaching, these efforts will be recognized in an exhibition opening on Wednesday at the American Kennel Club’s Museum of the Dog.
Titled “9/11 Remembered: Search & Rescue Dogs,” the exhibition also looks beyond the parameters of September 11th to honor dogs who have worked in other disasters, not just in the United States, but at the the whole world. The exhibition will also include several pieces from the DOGNY project, an art initiative that features life-size sculptures of German Shepherds. About 100 of them were stationed in New York after the attacks.
“I hope this can be a little more uplifting,” said Alan Fausel, the museum’s manager. “We’re also showing some of the better sides and positive results: Rex of White Way saved a whole platoon of people stuck in the Sierra Nevada in the 1950s, and we’re going to talk about St. Bernard dogs like Barry, a very famous St. … Bernhard in the St. Bernhard Hospice in Switzerland, who saved avalanche victims. “
The exhibition follows on from an ongoing temporary exhibition at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in Lower Manhattan, “K-9 Courage”, which opened in January 2020 but was barely visible due to the pandemic. This exhibition, which runs until spring 2022, features the portraits by photographer Charlotte Dumas of 15 of the dogs who helped with the ground zero rescue work, captured in 2011 for the 10th anniversary, as well as photos of them that were in the rubble work.
“You look them in the eye when you get older and you can use the documentary photographs to imagine what their eyes have seen,” says Alice M. Greenwald, managing director and president of the museum. “But you also know you’ve lived a life of service, and that’s certainly a satisfaction – for dogs and humans alike.”
About 2,753 people were killed when the Al Qaeda terrorist group hijacked two planes and crashed them into the towers of the World Trade Center, both of which collapsed within 102 minutes.
As a biting cloud of dust enveloped Lower Manhattan and mourned a nation, hundreds of search and rescue teams from across the country came to Ground Zero to join the search for survivors with the first dogs of the NYPD’s urban search and rescue team K-9, reached the south tower just 15 minutes after it collapsed.
The teams worked an average of 10 days in a row, 12 hours a day.
New York police have reported that although survivors were found in the rubble, none of them were the direct result of the discovery of a dog. However, several people have attributed a role in a rescue to Trackr, a retired police dog. His handler, a Canadian police officer who drove down from Nova Scotia, was suspended from his job for leaving without permission when his department saw him on TV helping with the rescue effort. (Jane Goodall later presented him with a humanitarian service award).
Dr. Cynthia Otto, the director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Philadelphia who looked after the dogs at Ground Zero, said so for the most part, the injuries to the dogs were only “very minor” – mainly cuts and scratches on the paws, legs and bellies as well as tiredness and heat exhaustion. The bigger challenge, she said, is the frustration of searching for hours and not finding anyone. When the dogs became discouraged and lost their motivation to search, the handlers had to stage “bogus finds” so that the dogs could feel successful.
“When you exercise, don’t search for hours without finding someone,” she said on a recent phone call. “You have to remind the dogs every now and then that they can win.”
Bretagne (pronounced Brittany), a then 2 year old golden retriever, arrived a week after the attacks and spent 10 days looking for survivors. She slept in a kennel at the Javits Center with her supervisor Denise Corliss, a Texas electrical engineer who had traveled to town with Texas Task Force 1, one of the 28 teams that make up the FEMA National Urban Search and Rescue System.
Corliss, 56, said Brittany, who died in 2016, was the last known live service dog hired by FEMA at Ground Zero. It brought comfort to rescuers and firefighters who approached the dog and petted it. Soon they would open up to Corliss and tell personal stories about the missing friends and colleagues they were looking for.
“A gentleman came up to me and started petting Brittany and said, ‘You know, I don’t really like dogs,'” she said. “Which was a surprising statement considering he knelt down to stroke her. I said ‘oh?’ And he says, ‘Yes, my best friend loved dogs; he had a golden retriever himself. My best friend is out there somewhere, ”and he pointed to the pile. It was a connection to his missing friend. “
And that, according to Fausel, is what the dog museum wants to capture in its new exhibition.
“The search and rescue dogs didn’t rescue people from the heap,” he said. “But I think you saved the people who were looking for something.”