The Dogs of September 11th

I hated my ICU rotation. During Vet Tech school we rotated through each of the specialty areas at the Purdue Veterinary College of Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital every two weeks. Vet students rotated through every six weeks (to my recollection).  ICU was all hands on deck.  Every patient was checked for vitals and general status check, medication, treatments each hour (frequently half-hour depending on the patient).  Sometimes we had so many in ICU that it took the entire hour to get through each patient.  There always seemed to be two major situations that caused 20 additional people running around the tiny ICU.   It was always a busy day.

September 11th, 2001

My first recollection of the news that day was an hour into my shift.  We had started on the second hour of checks, climbing in and out of runs with recumbent large dogs and the sounds of catheter, fluid, and syringe packaging being opened but luckily no whimpering pets or cries of pain.  However there was a radio on in the background.  A plane had hit one of the world trade center buildings in New York. I thought it must have been a small personal aircraft.  Those are pretty big buildings and you don’t just run into one.  This was 2001, no smart phones, people weren’t texting, or taking videos.  The vet school didn’t have TV’s in our common areas.  I don’t even think we had TV’s in the waiting area of the teaching hospital.

Real News from Bob & Tom?

The Bob & Tom Show was on the radio, they are big joker’s so I sort of didn’t take it seriously.  While doing a breathing treatment for a sweet Bulldog with some serious upper respiratory issues.  I was sitting in the oxygen cage with him (door open) and could hear the radio.  Maybe I hallucinated this but they said the reporter in New York’s name was Monica Lewinsky (it was Bob & Tom so I assumed it was a joke).  After the second plane hit, the background noise flipped.  We were in a hospital but those normal hospital sounds sunk to the background and all you could hear, the reports on the radio.

By the next hour,  clinicians, residents, and other students had been in and out of ICU delivering additional bits of news.  My most vivid recollection that day was sitting in run #3 with Jake, a yellow lab that was post anterior cruciate surgery.

He was laying on his right side.  His meds were still at a level to keep him sedate or at least very relaxed.  I had just changed his fluids, pushed some meds and shifted to sit behind him with one leg behind his back as pet him as I took his temperature, pulse, and respiration rate.  Jake’s senior surgery student came in to check on him.  I can’t remember what we said but we both just sat there with our hands on Jake and petting him as if we removed our hands from his body we would be forced to hear more of what was happening in the outside world.  Jake had been promoted from patient to therapy dog.

As we come upon the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  The dogs I cared for that day are part of my permanent September 11th memory. They haven’t left me.

There were a lot of heroes who stepped up that Tuesday in September 17 years ago and the months that followed.  Many of them were the four-legged variety.  I tear up reading the stories of dogs at ground zero.  Highly trained teams worked hard to recover the living but also helped bring closure to families and recover of the bodies of the people who were murdered that day.

Since September is National Literary Month, and being the mother of an elementary school student that is fascinated by history, for this post, I thought I’d pull together some books that could present some of the stories of 9/11 in a way that showed resiliency and good in people (and animals) at a kid friendly level.  But my focus turned a bit when found a special book.


A couple of years after 9/11 I saw a picture of this painting of a handsome yellow lab. It had these marvelous colors and uniqueness that I had never seen in an animal painting.   He reminded me of Jack!  The eyes of the dog in the paining, to me, captured the strength and intelligence that I remembered in Jack.  When I finally read about the subject named Sirius, I broke down, ugly cry and everything.

Sirius photo courtesy of Ron Burns

This bomb detection dog in service with The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department died in the collapse of Tower 1.   I cut out this picture (pre-Pinterest) and put it in my Franklin Planner (pre-smart phone) and he lived there for at least five years and then moved to a pin board and now is in a folder in my office.  Jack gave me a connection to Sirius that I feel to this day.

Shopping for books puts me in my happy place. While researching for my National Literary Month post I found Ron Burns’ Book, The Dogs of Ron Burns, A Tribute to the Dogs of 9/11.

In veterinary medicine we care for animals but working dogs hold a special place in our hearts.  All dogs give and working dogs give more and sometimes they give their life. The story and image of Sirius is a cornerstone of his book.

Search And Rescue Dogs

FEMA Indiana Task Force One Team Tony Zintsmaster and Kaiser

I’m am today, as ever, in awe of:

  • Trakar, the German Shepherd Dog who located the last survivor buried under the towers
  • Cowboy, a border collie who served as a member of FEMA
  • Bretagne, was the last living search and rescue dog from Texas Task Force One (part of FEMA).  She died at 16 years of age.
  • Charlie, a NYPD K9 officer, who died just shy of his 13th birthday.
  • Kaiser, (pictured at right) a SAR dog spent nine days at the World Trade Center site. He retired in 2010 and died at the age of 15.
  • Riley, Golden Retriever, a rescue dog often seen in a photo taken by U.S. Navy Photo by Journalist 1st Class Preston Keres transported out of the debris of the World Trade Center.

More than 300 dogs worked at ground zero either on the pile as search & rescue (or recovery) and the many therapy dogs.

Therapy Dogs

In addition to using their stellar sense of smell during the recovery efforts, other dogs used their super powers to bring comfort to those in need. A simple act of unconditional love and affection can go a long way.

One dog who beautifully married all that is wonderful about the human animal bond with exemplary will and strength was Labrador Retriever,  Roselle.

Guide Dog extraordinaire, Roselle


Roselle,  a guide dog for Michael Hingson who is blind and worked on the 78th floor of Tower 1 of The World Trade Center.  She led Michael and about 30 others through a darken stairwell down 1,463 steps out of the building.  Fifteen minutes after reaching street level, Tower 1 collapsed.  She has since died as have all of the SAR dogs that worked on the pile.  Mr. Hingson said of his Roselle “She remained poised and calm through the entire day.  She gave kisses and love wherever she could and she worked when she needed to do so”.


In addition Roselle, Ron Burns will introduce you to dogs who served in an official capacity as therapy dogs like:

  • Joey, certified therapy dog, retired racer, Therapy Dogs International
  • Tikva (hope in Hebrew), Pet Therapy, Hope Animal-Assisted Crisis Response
  • Gerin , Pet Therapy, Therapet
  • Molly, Pet Therapy, Delta Society
  • Red, Search and Rescue, FEMA

Trained Animal-Assisted Therapy dogs spent time with rescue workers and relatives of victims at a family assistance center in New York City, as well as accompanied the grieving on ferry rides along the Hudson River.

Sirius, the Explosive Detection, NYC Port Authority K9 officer was recovered from ground zero on January 25, 2002.  He is  believed to be the only canine to die in the attack on the World Trade Center.

Honoring the Dogs of 9/11

If you are looking for a book that highlights service and sacrifice of canine companions after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, below is a short list:

  • Retrieved, Charlotte Dumas,  spotlights 15 of the search-and-rescue pups who combed Ground Zero.

  • Patriot Day, September 11,  Sirius, The Hero Dog of 9/11, Hank Fellows
  • Dog Heroes of September 11th: A Tribute to America’s Search and Rescue Dogs, Nona Kilgore Bauer, Rudy Giuliani
  • The 9/11 Dogs: The heroes who searched for survivors at Ground Zero, Isabel George
  • The Dogs of Ron Burns, A Tribute to the Dogs of 9/11, Ron Burns

Please feel free to share with me anymore that you enjoy.

On our worst day, we can be grateful for the decision 40 million years ago to domesticate canines.  Dogs came together and used their superhuman powers to save, recover, give love and support when it was needed most.  This gives us reason to be thankful.

Leslie The Pet Nurse

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