Friday, September 11, 2009
By Julia Williams
September 11, 2001 will always be remembered as the day two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center. When the Twin Towers collapsed, they created a mountainous heap of smoldering rubble that burned for months. Countless firefighters and rescue workers risked their lives to search for survivors in the Ground Zero wreckage. Among them were an estimated 250 to 300 K-9 search and rescue dogs and their handlers.
I thought it fitting that on this fateful day, we take a moment to pay tribute to the heroic efforts of these amazing canines that have helped humankind for so many years. Beyond the 9/11 disaster, search and rescue (SAR) dogs have come to our aid during hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and other calamities. Although most of the handlers maintain that their search and rescue dogs are just doing the job they were trained to do, many people – dog lovers and the general public alike – regard them as extraordinary.
Disaster response dogs are called upon to work under the most extreme conditions, in highly dangerous and often toxic environments. Most of the K-9 teams at the World Trade Center disaster site rotated on 12 hour work shifts. The SAR dogs bravely dug in the fiery rubble at Ground Zero despite getting their feet singed by white-hot debris. They courageously nosed through the noxious smoke and dust despite its potential to harm their lungs. Who among us mere mortals could withstand such an ordeal? Not I, which is why I consider these dogs to be heroes of the highest order.
Many different dog breeds are used in search and rescue operations, but they typically come from the herding, hunting or working breeds. Some of the more common SAR dogs are German Shepherds, Bloodhounds, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies and the Belgian Malinois. More important than the specific breed, however, is the dog’s disposition. Each search and rescue dog has its own unique set of skills and endurance abilities, but all are hard-working and focused on the task at hand.
I recently came across a wonderful book on this subject, titled DOG HEROES of September 11th: A Tribute to America's Search and Rescue Dogs. Written by Nona Kilgore Bauer and the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, this oversized pictorial book is a riveting account of search and rescue work, and the dogs that play such a vital part in it. Profiles of various SAR teams show them hard at work at Ground Zero and the Pentagon, accompanied by descriptions of what they are doing. This is a very moving book, and a must-read for all dog lovers.
The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) is a non-profit organization founded in 1996 and based in Ojai, California. According to their website, their mission is to “strengthen disaster response in America by recruiting rescued dogs and partnering them with firefighters and other first responders to find people buried alive in the wreckage of disasters.” There are currently 69 SDF-trained search teams located in California, Florida, New York, Oklahoma, and Utah. SDF offers the professionally trained canines at no cost to fire departments, and they ensure lifetime care for every dog in their program. If you would like to support on-going search canine efforts, contact the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation at 888-4-K9-HERO.
In memory of 9/11, please join me as I pay homage to all the remarkable search and rescue dogs that help us when disaster strikes. These dogs provide an invaluable service that saves lives, and they deserve our utmost respect.
Read more articles by Julia Williams