In the shocked aftermath of terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, brave search and rescue dogs and their handlers from across the country were mobilized. For frantic days they sniffed for survivors. For numbing weeks, they searched for casualties.
It was the largest deployment of search dogs in U.S. history, according to the website doginthenews.com, and “possibly the single greatest example of inter-species cooperation in the history of human disasters.”
Estimates of how many trained canines worked 9/11 sites range as high as 350 or more. The exact number may never be known. We do know that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, deployed almost 100 search dogs from 18 states to the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
In the Boston Herald Sept. 8, Laurel Sweet reported that special canine medical units daily treated as many as 100 dog injuries in the first few days of searching. Most were paw cuts from jagged steel and glass. Dr. Cynthia Otto of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine was on hand.
“I think the dogs were the only thing that kept people going at Ground Zero,” Sweet quotes Otto as saying. “You”d actually see their faces change when a dog walked by.”
A decade later, almost all of those courageous canines are gone. When Dutch photographer Charlotte Dumas discovered only 15 of the FEMA-deployed animals were still living, she succeeded in visiting and photographing them at their homes throughout the country, where they still lived with their handlers.
Her moving and powerful portraits of those aging canine heroes are compiled in a 48-page paperback, “Retrieved.” The September release will be available at amazon.com and other online booksellers.
This afternoon a recognition ceremony honoring canine search and rescue teams who worked at 9/11 sites will be held at the Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N.J., directly across the water from where the twin towers stood. It is sponsored by the group Finding One Another.
“If these dogs knew what a difference they make,” said FEMA rescue worker Bob Sessions in the Boston Herald article. “Certainly, there”s nothing that can replace the precision of a dog”s nose — and absolutely nothing that can replace a dog”s heart.”