the k-9 heroes of 9/11
09-09-212 mins read
Twenty years ago, the World Trade Center collapsed. More than 300 K-9s responded to the call at Ground Zero. We remember just a few of those hero dogs today.
Dog Stories

Twenty years ago, the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11. Nearly 10,000 emergency rescue workers responded to the call to help fellow Americans after the terrorist attacks on our home soil – and more than 300 of those heroes at Ground Zero were K-9s. Around 100 of those were FEMA Search and Rescue (SAR) dogs, and it is believed to be its largest deployment in American history.

According to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation ED Debra Tosch in this AKC article, “most people in this country had never heard of disaster search dogs [before 9/11].” Media coverage exploded around the working dogs’ service, and provided a new era regarding working dogs and their capabilities, thanks to the new-found public knowledge.

Today, we remember just a few of those 300 hero dogs of 9/11.

BRETAGNE

Bretagne & Handler Denise Corliss at Ground Zero. Photo from TODAY, courtesy of Denise Corliss

Bretagne was a golden retriever and search dog who used her nose to scour the rubble that September day for those alive. In addition to her Ground Zero efforts, Bretagne also performed work with search teams for Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Ivan and other disasters.

In 2016, Bretagne passed away as the last living Ground Zero search dog – just shy of his 17th birthday. As she entered the veterinary office for the last time, members of the Texas Task Force and the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department saluted Bretagne and again as she departed with her body draped in an American flag. We salute you, Bretagne.

Read more about her storied life (and see photos) in this TODAY article.

KAISER

Kaiser’s first mission as a FEMA SAR dog was Ground Zero as a “live-find” dog. 

Since that day, the German Shepherd contributed to efforts in the wake of natural disasters across the country – like Hurricane Katrina, where they stayed for 21 days. Kaiser’s handler, Tony Zintsmaster, said in this article that Kaiser also inadvertently often offered therapeutic services in the midst of trauma, to both victims and fellow rescue workers. 

In 2013, just a few days after his 15th birthday, the K-9 passed away. We thank you, Kaiser.

CHARLIE

Thirty-three NYPD K-9 dogs took over recovery operations once the FEMA dogs left Ground Zero, and stayed working for months.

One of these dogs who worked at Ground Zero after the 9/11 terror attacks was Charlie, who arrived to handler Police Officer Suzanne McCrosson just 1 year before.

As a patrol dog, Charlie was trained to detect human scent – but when the attack happened, he was quickly cross-trained on SAR techniques to help at Ground Zero. In this story, McCrosson remembers his fearlessness in scaling 20-foot drops to scour the wreckage.

Charlie passed away in 2011, just before his 13th birthday, at the home of McCrosson. Never forget.

RILEY

Riley, a brave and whip-smart golden retriever, is one of the more photographed K-9s of 9/11 – the picture of him being transported in a basket alone over a 60-foot-deep canyon to search the remains of the North Tower was seen around the world. A member of FEMA’s Pennsylvania Task Force 1, he was trained to find live people, though he did assist in recovering bodies of firefighters. 

In 2010, Riley passed away with his family by his side after serving his nation and acting as a beacon of hope. Rest in peace, Riley.

THE FUTURE OF WORKING K-9S

We thought this quote summed it up well: “People are realizing all of the different ways we can use these K-9s,” Tosch says in the AKC story. “We’re only limited by our imagination.”

To learn more about the legacy of 9/11 K-9s, this comprehensive AKC article is a good place to start. Artist Ron Burns also has some great stories about the dogs of 9/11.

Read More: GUNNER Kennels & the NYPD ESU K-9 TEAM

Read More: Rescue Dogs and Warriors Unite

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