6 Heroic Search & Rescue Dogs of 9/11
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. As we take time to remember and honor the fallen, let’s not forget the courageous four-legged heroes of September 11th.
In the days following the attacks, nearly 10,000 emergency rescue workers joined in the efforts to help the rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center and Pentagon. More than 300 of those heroes were dogs, representing the largest deployment of dogs in the nation’s history. A variety of breeds joined the rescue efforts, including German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Belgian Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Border Collies, Portuguese Waterdogs, Dogue de Bordeaux, Rat Terriers, and Keeshound, to name a few.
Teams of dogs and handlers specially trained in search and rescue, police work, therapy and comfort were deployed to aid the search and rescue efforts. These dedicated doggies with their human counterparts comforted the distressed, and climbed over and through mountains of destruction dutifully seeking signs of victims. Here are six stories about incredible canine heroes of the September 11th terrorist attacks:
Appollo was a German Shepherd, who worked with the first New York Police Department K-9 Urban Search and Rescue Team. Appollo and his handler, Pete Davis, arrived at the South Tower just 15 minutes after it collapsed, making them the first search-and-rescue dog team on site after the attacks.
The German Shepherd and his handler spent nearly 18 hours each day searching for survivors.
During their search efforts, Appollo nearly lost his life to flames and falling debris. By luck, he was soaking wet from falling in a pool of water and was narrowly missed by falling flames and debris. He went right back to work after his handler brushed some debris off of him. Appollo continued to work diligently until he showed signs of extreme exhaustion and required treatment.
On March 5, 2002, Appollo received the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross, on behalf of all search and rescue dogs who assisted in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks.
At 17 inches tall and weighing only 18 pounds, Ricky, a three-year old Rat Terrier from Seattle, was the smallest search and rescue dog at Ground Zero. At a young age, he displayed incredible intelligence and his firefighter mother, Janet Linker, began to train him as a search and rescue (SAR) dog. Ricky excelled and became a member of the Puget Sound Urban Search and Rescue team.
On September 19, 2001, Ricky and Linker deployed to Ground Zero with members of their Puget Sound group. The team included three other rescue dogs and 62 firefighters, and was one of 28 elite SAR teams that were coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
While rat terriers aren’t the prototypical SAR dogs, Ricky's small size gave him a big advantage. He was able to reach locations that larger SAR dogs couldn’t, like buckled subway tunnels and stairwells. He was able to climb ladders, run complex patterns, and determine the difference between living and deceased victims.
For 10 days straight, Ricky and Linker combed through the rubble in tandem with another SAR pair, Kent Olson and “Thunder”, a five-year-old Golden Retriever. Ricky would disappear into tiny spaces to find victims. If he found a victim, Thunder, the more experience of the two, would confirm the find. In addition to finding multiple victims, they recovered personal items, such as jewelry, that were given to victims’ families.
Bretagne (pronounced Brit-nee) was a golden retriever trained in search-and-rescue from outside of Houston Texas. At the young age of two years old, Bretagne and her handler, Capt. Denise Corliss of the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department, deployed to Ground Zero as a part of the Texas Task Force 1. This was their first deployment together and, while daunting, both Denise and Bretange were ready for the challenge.
Over a ten day mission at Ground Zero, Bretagne and her handler work 12 hour days searching for signs of victims. While trained as a search-and-rescue dog, Bretagne provided emotional support to the other emergency responders at Ground Zero.
During her seven years of active duty, Bretagne and her handler also deployed to search and rescue efforts of major hurricanes like Katrina, Rita and Ivan. In her retirement, she aided other search dogs in training and volunteered at a reading program at a local elementary school.
Just shy of her 17th birthday, Bretagne passed peacefully surrounded by her devoted companions, Denise and Randy Corliss. Bretagne received a hero’s farewell from her fellow members of the rescue team Texas Task Force 1 and the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department. She was the last known surviving dog that responded to Ground Zero.
Riley was a four-year-old Golden Retriever and a member of FEMA’s Pennsylvania Task Force 1. He worked alongside his handler, Chris Selridge, a firefighter in Johnstown, PA, from the evening of September 11th to the 19th.
Riley was specifically trained as a live-find dog. Unfortunately, 27 hours after the attacks the last live victim was found and the efforts turned from rescue to recovery. Without any formal training as a cadaver dog, Riley helped recover several remains of firefighters. He never gave up hope and searched desperately to find living survivors.
Riley captured the nation’s attention in one of the most iconic pictures from the relief effort at Ground Zero. Taken on September 15th, 2001, the image of Riley lying in a Stokes basket being pulled carefully on a rope trolley high above a 60-foot deep canyon (taken by a U.S. Navy photojournalist, 1st Class Preston Keres) appeared in newspapers and on websites across the world.
Hansen was a 7-year-old Belgian Shepherd dog, who worked alongside his handler, retired NYPD officer and then-chief of the Lindenhurst Fire Department, Steve Smaldon. While most dogs work for 7-14 days, Hansen and Steve worked for 150 days, searching for victims.
On one fateful day, Hansen and his handler climbed down into a 100 foot hole where Hansen located several victim remains. Shortly after emerging from the hole, Hansen ran up the hill and then began to furiously alert. After first responders dug through the rubble, the remains of two NYPD officers, Officer John William Perry and Sgt. Michael Curtin, were found.
A statue of Hansen was erected in Lindenhurst Remembers Memorial Garden on New York’s Long Island. Unfortunately, vandals viciously destroyed the statute in 2011. The community worked quickly to replace and re-dedicated the statues on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Trakr, a German Shepherd from Halifax, Nova Scotia, was trained as a police dog and worked for six years, helping find people, evidence and stolen goods. Prior to deploying to Ground Zero, Trakr had a prolific reputation and was credited with hundreds of arrests and recovered more than one million dollars in stolen goods.
On September 11th, Trakr and his handler, Canadian Police Officer James Symington, drove 15 hours to help the recovery and rescue efforts. Upon arriving, Trakr and his handler got right to work locating numerous victims. On September 12th, roughly 27 hours after the first plane hit, Trakr located Genelle Guzman-MicMillan, the last survivor to be found beneath the rubble.
On September 14th, after working tirelessly for days, Trakr collapsed from smoke and chemical inhalation, burns, and exhaustion. Thankfully, he was treated for his injuries and able to return home with his handler, James.
In the later years of his life, Trakr remained dedicated to helping others. He loved visiting children’s organizations, schools and hospitals, always taking a little extra time with those who needed him most. Trakr passed away in April of 2009 at the age of 16.
These are just six of the amazing dogs, who risked their lives to save others on September 11th, 2001. The 9/11 Memorial & Museum’s South Tower Gallery has a temporary exhibition called K-9 Courage, which honors the hundreds of dogs that participated in the response to the 9/11 attacks. The exhibit is on display until December 2021. Click here for a virtual tour of the exhibit and to learn more about these four-legged heroes.
- Holly W