In the days following the attacks of 9/11, rescue and cadaver dogs and their handlers worked tirelessly to first locate survivors, and ultimately to recover human remains that helped families find closure.
Nona Kilgore Bauer, author of Dog Heroes of September 11th: A Tribute to America’s Search and Rescue Dogs, said, “Without their contribution hundreds of victims’ families would not have found the peace that comes with the return of a family member or beloved friend.”
Searching through the debris was described by one handler as “think of taking a giant blender, filling it with pieces of ceiling, metal, pieces of flesh, pieces of clothing, paper, glass, and putting it on the highest speed possible.”
The atmosphere where the dogs and their handlers performed their searches has been described as smoldering debris with deep odors, smoke, dust, and noise, having to face death all around.
Yet, the dogs performed their work gallantly.
In addition to performing search and rescue, the dogs served another important purpose: therapy. Debra Tosch, one of the search and rescue handlers recalls watching her dog, Abby, provide comfort to a firefighter. “I remember one firefighter who hugged Abby and buried his face in her neck after just finding out a fellow firefighter was found [dead].”
Veterinarians were available at the disaster sites to provide medical treatment to the working dogs.
Dr. Mark Honaker, an emergency care veterinarian, was originally dispatched as part of an urban search and rescue team serving under FEMA, but quickly took on the job of caring for the dogs. He said the most common issues he saw among the dogs at the Pentagon were mild – mostly diarrhea, minor foot abrasions, and eye irritations.
The value of the service that the search and rescue dogs and their handlers provided during such a horrific event is invaluable. Bauer said it best: “From my perspective, the canine is God’s greatest gift to mankind. Although they did what they are trained to do, they are still amazing creatures.”