The Legacy of 9/11 Dogs 19 Years Later By Mara Bovsun | Sep 08, 2020 | Featured online at

The Dogs of 9/11 Otto says that the work of the dogs in that terrible time made her facility possible. Sniffer dogs had been around for decades, but the public had little understanding of what they could do. “There was some sense that they might be able to find a lost Boy Scout in the woods but nothing of the scope and impact of a national disaster [even though they had a critical role in the Oklahoma City bombing and several natural disasters],” says Otto.

Media coverage of 9/11 focused on the dogs as the one “ray of sunshine” in a bleak landscape, she says. Images of these dogs working tirelessly, doing whatever was needed to get the job done, captured hearts and minds all over the world. Photos, such as the iconic one of Golden Retriever Riley of FEMA’s Pennsylvania Task Force 1, moved people to action.

Riley the Golden Retriever assisted in the 9/11 search and rescue efforts. He was trained to find live people and helped recover several bodies of firefighters. About 300 dog/handler search teams responded to Ground Zero, but only about 100 were prepared for the size of the disaster Most people in the U.S. had never heard of disaster search dogs before 9/11 9/11 also ushered in a new era for therapy dogs On first glance, this picture, from 2012, is one of unbearable sweetness. Two Golden Retrievers are standing together, one with a gray muzzle, the other a puppy, both wearing vests signifying that they are working dogs. T h e

Otto says that many dog owners were inspired to pursue search- and-rescue certification because of those images.

older dog is Bretagne, one of the heroes of G r o u n d Zero. Nearly 15 years after the event, she was still m a k i n g headl ines . In August

The performance of the dogs on 9/11 also sparked serious study of the effects of this kind of work on canine bodies and minds, Otto says. “We were able to conduct our longitudinal study of the dogs as a result of the generous funding of the AKC Canine Health Foundation.”

Press coverage, she says, also gave some search-dog training organizations a much-needed financial boost.

Super Noses? One of those organizations is the nonprofit National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, a group founded in 1995 by a retired teacher, Wilma Melville. After her first deployment—the Oklahoma City bombing, in 1995—Melville recognized a need for more dogs specifically trainedfor thiskindofworkandfoundedtheNSDF. Theorganization scours shelters, looking for dogs with search and rescue potential, and prepares them for jobs with fire departments. The training costs about $10,000. NSDF provides the dogs free of charge. “Most people in this country had never heard of disaster search dogs [before 9/11],” says NSDF Executive Director Debra Tosch. When the news media started focusing on the dogs at Ground Zero, she says, “public knowledge really exploded.”

2015, media carried the story of a happy occasion—her 16th birthday, in which she and her handler Denise Corliss, members of Texas Task Force 1, were feted in New York City. In June 2016, sadder headlines told of her death, just shy of the great old age of 17. The puppy in the picture is also Bretagne, named in honor of the 9/11 sniffing celebrity. She is one small part of the legacy of Bretagne and all the other dogs who helped through those dark days, whether they were searching the ruins or easing unimaginable grief. Young Bretagne, trained to detect blood sugar fluctuations in a diabetic patient, is a graduate of a training school—the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. This training school is the brainchild of Dr. Cynthia M. Otto, a veterinarian who worked at Ground Zero.

Tosch, and her SDF-trained black Labrador Retriever, Abby, were among the FEMA-certified canine search specialists, part of


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