Volunteer firefighters, police officers, and rescue workers from around the world rushed to the aid of New York City and Washington D.C. in the days following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Among these heroes were some of the four-legged variety -- dog heroes. This Patriot Day, we pay tribute to these noble hero dogs and their courageous handlers.
Iconic photos of Riley being transported alone through the onsite debris have been shared thousands of times since 2001. This search and rescue Golden Retriever was formally trained to locate survivors of the attacks, desperately searching the World Trade Center as part of FEMA’s Pennsylvania Task Force 1. His image as a beacon of hope at Ground Zero brought motivation and comfort to the firefighters and police officers tirelessly working through the tragedy.
Riley provided his owner, Chris Selfridge, and his nation, with over 13 years of love and support. Riley’s passing in 2010 helped inspire a study of the long-term effects that rigorous search and rescue work can have on canine health.
German Shepherd Appollo graduated from the NYPD Canine Special Operations Division when he was two years old. He was one of New York City’s top dogs throughout the 1990s and worked with the first NYPD K-9 Urban Search and Rescue team. Appollo and his handler, Peter Davis, were the first K-9 search and rescue team to answer the call on September 11, arriving at the South Tower just 15 minutes after its collapse.
From that moment on, Appollo looked for survivors 18 hours a day for weeks on end. His search and rescue work earned him one of the first AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE) in 2001, as well as the Dickin Medal on behalf of all Patriot Day search and rescue dogs, awarded “for tireless courage in the service of humanity during the search and rescue operations in New York and Washington on and after 11 September 2001.”
Sage was two years old when the search and rescue Border Collie and her handler, Diane Whetsel, worked at the Pentagon after the 9/11 attacks. With the highest-level recognition from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Sage was one of the nation’s top 50 dogs in the search and rescue field. She and her handler continued their careers in SAR by rescuing animals stranded by Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina before their deployment to Iraq in 2007.
Once retired, Sage became a part of the 9/11 search and rescue dog study done by the University of Pennsylvania, funded by the AKC Canine Health Foundation. She was also honored with the 2009 Search and Rescue Award for Canine Excellence before crossing the Rainbow Bridge in 2012 at the age of 13.
Bretagne (Brit-nee) was known as the last living search and rescue dog to have worked at Ground Zero. Bretagne and her owner-handler Denise Corliss worked 12-hour shifts on rescue and recovery for 10 days straight after the attacks on September 11. This Golden Retriever’s career training began at just eight weeks old, making her a lifelong veteran of rescue missions including Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ivan.
After her retirement from the workforce at age nine, Bretagne took her talents to a local elementary school where she helped first-graders as a reading assistance dog for her remaining years. Bretagne crossed the Rainbow Bridge with her owners by her side at the age of 16 in Texas, where she was saluted by representatives from the armed forces and local fire departments.
Trakr was a German Shepherd who answered the call for action that fateful day with his Canadian police officer and handler James Symington. The duo is credited with finding the last remaining survivor from the World Trade Center after she had been trapped for 26 hours. TIME awarded Trakr with the sixth spot on their published list of Top 10 Heroic Animals.
Seven years later, Symington entered Trakr in a BioArts International contest where the winner’s DNA would be cloned. Trakr had what it took as an exceptional canine specimen and was cloned five times before his passing in 2009 at the age of 14. The Trakr puppy clones (Trustt, Solace, Valor, Prodigy, and Deja Vu) are continuing Trakr’s legacy, and all started their training as search and rescue dogs in 2011.