Remembering the 9/11 Dogs 20 Years Later

We often hear about the brave men and women who ran the search and rescue efforts at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001. But did you know that a number of canines were also involved in the rescue efforts? To save lives and help clean up the aftermath of terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, about 10,000 first responders enlisted the help of more than 300 dogs.

Let’s take a look at some of the heroic dogs that contributed to those rescue operations in honor of the 20th anniversary of the unprecedented terrorist attacks on September 11th.

Golden Retriever Riley

9/11 dog riley
Andrea Booher, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The first heroic dog was Riley, a golden retriever that was trained to find any live people who might have been trapped. Though he didn’t find any live people – he located the bodies of many firefighters – he never gave up hope in his search and was very dedicated to his job. This canine member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Pennsylvania Task Force 1 was mentioned in the book “The History of the World in Fifty Dogs.”

His handler said,

I tried my best to tell Riley he was doing his job. He had no way to know that when firefighters and police officers came over to hug him, and for a split second you can see them crack a smile—that Riley was succeeding at doing an altogether different job. He provided comfort. Or maybe he did know.

9/11 Dogs: Labrador Retrievers Coby and Guinness

9/11 hero dogs

Labrador retrievers Coby and Guinness came all the way from Southern California, where they lived with their handler, to assist the search and rescue teams at the World Trade Center. They worked 12-hour shifts in 11 days, finding the human remains of dozens of people beneath the rubble alongside rescue workers.

The black and yellow labs worked with Redlands Battalion Chief David Graves, who said that Coby, “was covering a huge area, several stories underground and several stories above… The magnitude of the area he covered was a lot more than what we ever trained for.”

Graves said that Guinness, who also helped with the La Conchita Mudslide and wilderness searches with the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department and Hurricane Katrina, “had a really good career.”

Border Collie Sage

hero dog sage

Sage, a black and white border collie and one of the 9/11 dogs, was only 18 months old when she became a search and rescue dog for FEMA. Her first mission took place in the aftermath of September 11th, when she searched through the Pentagon. She ended up finding the cadaver of the terrorist who flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the building.

Sage also helped with Hurricane Katrina and Rita rescue efforts, and she served as a children’s hero at a cancer camp.

German Shepherd Trakr

9/11 dogs
Andrea Booher, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Trakr was a German Shepherd that found the last survivor of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, Genelle Guzman-McMillan. She had been trying to get to the bottom of the South Tower building when it collapsed. Trakr discovered her after she’d been trapped for 27 hours beneath rubble and concrete.

“It’s so awesome that the dogs could have this kind of sense, to find people buried under the rubble,” Guzman-McMillan told Animal Planet. “I felt total renewed life in me… That was the most joyful moment.”

Trakr died in 2009. Remarkably, California-based BioArts International cloned him and created five new puppies just like him. Those pups were named Déjà Vu, Trustt, Valour, Solace, and Prodigy.

“If they show the same intelligence, courage, and determination as Trakr they will help to save other lives,” said James Symington, Trakr’s owner, and former police handler.

Golden Retriever Bretagne

Image credit: Denise Corliss

Another Golden retriever that helped out with rescue operations was Bretagne (pronounced Brit-nee), who worked with her owner and handler Denise Corliss at Ground Zero for 10 days. When Bretagne was only eight weeks old, Corliss, who was a volunteer firefighter, began training her pup. They were certified by FEMA and also helped out during Hurricane Katrina, Ivan, and Rita.

Though Bretagne retired from search and rescue operations when she was nine, she continued to volunteer as a reading assistance dog at an elementary school and as a goodwill ambassador for her local fire department.

Dr. Cindy Otto, a veterinarian with the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, said that “(Bretagne’s) partnership with Denise Corliss was magical… The two of them touched lives throughout their careers together, not only in search and rescue but even after her retirement.”

German Shepherd Apollo

German shepherd Apollo and his handler Peter Davis helped with rescue operations at the World Trade Center. They arrived at Ground Zero just 15 minutes after the attacks happened, which meant that Apollo was the first rescue dog to show up for duty.

The heroic dog was nearly killed by falling debris and fires. But since he was drenched in a pool of water beforehand, he survived. He worked 18-hour days and provided moral support to rescuers.

Prior to becoming a search and rescue dog after September 11th, Apollo had worked with the NYPD and was considered one of their best police dogs and four-legged heroes.

Labrador Retriever Jake

Another black Labrador retriever that was one of the 9/11 dogs was Jake. Jake looked through smoking debris to find survivors at Ground Zero. When he and other members of Utah Task Force 1 walked into a fancy New York City restaurant, Jake was given a free steak dinner.

Jake also helped out with Hurricane Katrina rescue efforts. He trained younger dogs all across the United States and was a therapy dog for children who were burn victims. He worked at senior hospitals and homes, too.

His owner, Mary Flood, said that Jake, who died in 2007, “was a great morale booster wherever he went… He was always ready to work, eager to play — and a master at helping himself to any unattended food items.”

Honoring the Victims and Hero Dogs of 9/11

These heroic dogs are examples of the best canines around. Working hand in hand with their owners and trainers, they were able to save lives and contribute to the rescue efforts after the terrorist attacks. On the 20th anniversary of 9/11 this year, make sure you honor their memories, along with all of the people who were tragically taken from us that fateful day.