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Archive for September 2019

9/11 revisit: Rescue Dogs

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By Nancy Koan

My introduction to the rescue dogs first came at the Javitz Center where I waited along with hundreds of others for instructions on what to do as a volunteer.  Most of us had been standing around for ages and except for an occasional flirtation with firemen, were feeling like crap and basically in shock. There was plenty of free food and sun, but not enough to do to fill up the hours of disbelief and confusion.

I think it was about five thirty when a work shift was finishing and the people started coming back from downtown.  Everyone was looking for signs of hope but all we saw were exhausted, saddened faces.  Then, suddenly, a police captain walked by with a worn out German Shepherd at his side. Perhaps as much for himself as for the news- starved volunteers, he turned to the crowd and announced that his dog had made eight “finds” that day.

 At that point in the rescue effort, no one knew precisely what “finds” meant, but we understood that something good had happened and that the dog was a big part of it. We gave them both a standing ovation, just as we had done for the returning rescue fireman.  The dog wagged his tail and they went off. It was the beginning of many such moments.

Porkchop, Max, Molly, Senta and Daisy are just a few of the names from the heroic rescue dogs who came to New York to help the fallen on September 11th. They poured in from everywhere: California, Florida, Arkansas, Chicago, France – the world. They were mostly work dogs, shepherds, collies, a bloodhound, a few rotweillers, some labs and yes, even one part poodle. Some of them belonged to FEMA, some to the police department, and some to just ordinary civilians, many who paid their own way to New York to offer their skills in what instantly became known as Ground Zero.

Dr. Garvey from the Animal Medical Center in New York said, “I have never seen anything like it. These dogs worked in the most adverse conditions. Lots of dust got into their ears, nose and eyes. Wuss, a Belgian Malinois from St. Louis fell face first into a hole and had to be treated for asphyxiation. Ammo, a German shepherd, who had had 200 saves in his career, collapsed from dehydration.”

 Clearly, these were not games being played on a field. Ground Zero was a true test of the canines rescue skills and their loyalty to the handlers.  These dogs worked longer hours than most of my friends. Each day consisted of a 12- hour shift with a few breaks for ear cleaning and a bath.  They had to walk on endless jagged material, teetering on shaky debris in the wild hope of picking up a scent that would lead them to a living or dead body.  Dr.Glenn Anderson, working at the Triage center in Tribeca said that the circumstances under which the dogs and handlers worked were ‘unimaginable’, and he was amazed by the camaraderie and cooperation.

Rescue dogs are trained in two ways: live finds and cadavers.  For live, they often learn by searching for their handler who is hidden in a forest or hole, invisible to the human eye. The dogs sniff them out. Their reward is finding the person they love. For human remains, they practice with products that give off the scent of a corpse.  Sometimes they work with actual dead bodies.  Their sense of smell is so powerful that they can pick up scents through asphalt.  In the case of the World Trade Center, finding cadavers became their only job.

Not surprisingly, these dogs experienced a kind of stress and depression at what they found. Unlike us, they had no Prozac.  But like the best in us, they kept on looking and hoping. 

All of these wonderful dogs and their handlers have a story. Here are just a few of them:


Senta, a 5- year old German Shepherd who worked with veterinarian, Dr. Dan Bacalaglu, from Lakehurst, New Jersey. He was adopted from a shelter and trained at the Naval base, OEM.  September 11th was his first real job. The two of them came to help at 2 p.m. on the Tuesday of the attack and had been working for more than a week when we met.


First-timer, Daisy, a bloodhound with draping ears was the picture of youthful enthusiasm. Prior to this assignment, handler Gary Curdiff of Cherry Hill had done lots of repetitive tracking in wooded areas. Daisy was adopted from the Allige Foundation, founded by a father in memory of his abducted daughter


I bumped into Rookie when he was having his paws checked for cuts at the Triage center. Joaquin Guerrero, of the Saginaw Police in Michigan fell in love with German Shepherd Rookie when he was just a pup in 1996 and  they’ve patrolled the streets of Saginaw ever since.  As Guerrero’s partner, Rookie is considered a full-fledged police officer.  He is trained as a “full utility” dog.  Rookie can search, track, do SWAT team work, evidence searches, narcotic detection and K-9 therapy.  This was his first trip to New York.


Max, a Shepherd belonged to, Jasmine Fraleigh of Fort Smith, Arkansas and had come with the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team.  Jasmine said that Max, a four- year old Sagittarius (meaning he likes to travel), could never have been prepared for anything of this nature.  One time back home though, she said,   “Max picked up a scent after 18 hours of a lost thirteen year old.” She felt that Max was definitely suffering depression from the lack of live finds, but at least he was able to give comfort therapy to the fireman on site where they “could cry onto his broad furry back.”


Another hero, Kermit, a German Shepherd working with Merlin Durkman, from Colorado, was trained to find human scent, blood, fluid, bodies, and clothing. He had an extremely sensitive nose but was because of the dust, was experiencing some difficulty from the dust.


The international response to the tragedy had been no less than the national.  A rescue team from France arrived on Sunday, anxious to put their hounds to the test. They were from C.I.C.R.S. or Group Intervention Cinophile Rescue Search.  It takes two to three years of training before they are ready for search and rescue. When they find someone alive, the dogs jump up and yelp; when they find a dead body, they drop down and look sad.  Ah, the French technique. Their dogs are especially adept at finding lost children.  They once found a little girl in Armonje, France after ten days.

They team was anxious to start working and had to wait for a diplomatic release before joining the search.


. Hedges, a 3 1/2 year old black and tan German Shepherd, was part of the New York State Police explosives detection and K-9 unit. He and his handler, Neil Dow of Troop F in Orange County, New York specialize in bomb searches and  were brought into the World Trade Center scene to do “bomb sweeps” to insure that there were nothing planted. Because at that point there had been 90 threats, they had “swept” JFK, La Guardia and the Javitz Center.


Officer Dow uses hand gestures with Hedges for commands like sit, stay and come. “The three key words with dogs are patience, repetition and praise.” he says.  “Also, they like to be spoken to in a high-pitched voice when training.” I was personally thrilled to hear that.  I have always spoken to my animal companions in a “girly” voice that has driven many of my human friends crazy.

 Watching Hedges and Dow together almost made me yearn for a relationship as sweet as theirs, their bond is so tight.  Dow says “if a perpetrator gives off a “vibe” that the dog mistrusts, the dog will react to protect his handler.”  This includes subtle energies that are only picked up by the dog. “Dogs have jumped through car windows to protect their handlers”, Dow said.

“Patrol dogs’ lives are quite stressful. They have a career span of six to eight years”, Dow said, because of the climbing up and down, which can be hard on their hips.” But even when Hedges retires, he will continue to live with Dow.  They are a real team.



“Moses led people out of Egypt” said Chief Rabiela as a way of explaining his German Shepherd’s name. They came from Chicago, from the Fellowship of Christian Firefighters, thus further explaining the moniker. “Moses has zero aggression and he does therapy work, too”, said the Chief proudly.   Moses had to have three stitches on his paw after he cut it while climbing on a wire. But like Moses, he was back out in the field the very next day.


Every show has a star and the 9/11 canine rescue team had Porkchop, an Australian Shepherd with a pinkish nose.  Porkchop was trained in live scent and cadaver work with the California Rescue Dog Association and spends his days in Oakhurst, California with handsome handler Eric Robertson.  They’ve been together since Porkchop was 10 weeks old. The breed is apparently good for avalanche work, able to work long, hard shifts with great find success.  They train regularly everyday for four hours.

 Assigned to the New York Police Department canine unit, Porkchop and Robertson were considered the confirmation team.  FEMA people would go in first, then Porkchop would go in and confirm. According to Robertson, Porkchop made recoveries everyday, often within the first thirty minutes of starting the shift.  His technique was to bark three times when he makes a “live find” and to sneeze when he finds a cadaver. There were no survivors found, but everyday remains were discovered.

Porkchop was the first dog I saw with little booties. . Some of the dogs wear booties to help protect the soft pads of their feet from the rubble. Many sets of booties had been donated.  Porkchop seemed to really enjoy wearing them, a closet shoe fiend no doubt.

“But, when his vest is off, he’s just like a regular dog”, insisted Robertson “And how did he get such a goofy name?” I asked.   “When he was a puppy, we put him in the shopping cart at a grocery store and when we went to the checkout line, the sticker from the pork chops was stuck to his butt,” answered Robertson.

There were so many more canine workers: MOLLY, the yellow lab; MORGAN, and BIGFOOT. They came from all over this country and the world, but they had one thing in common – they shared a love for their handlers. We New Yorkers were fortunate, for with that love came incredible skill, training, loyalty and devotion.  Qualities that this city so desperately needed and will continued to need as we heal.  The statues that were erected are a reminder to us all that these shaggy heroes are truly human being’s best friend.

Written by nancykoan

September 11, 2019 at 6:55 pm

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