Firefighter in yellow gear at ground zero of the World Trade Centers in New York City after the bombing in 2001, with a black lab by his side

Today we pay tribute to the 9/11 rescue dogs who answered the call of duty when America came under attack the quiet morning of September 11th, 2001.

The Attack and Immediate Response

Tower One of the World Trade Center was struck at 8:45 am with an American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel. Tower Two was struck at 9:03 am. Within an hour and 42 minutes, both 110-story towers had collapsed.

The Role of Rescue Dogs at Ground Zero

Within the hours and the immediate days that followed, dogs specially trained in search and rescue, police work, therapy, and comfort, deployed to Ground Zero. These dogs worked tirelessly, sometimes 12-hour shifts, along-side their handlers, climbing huge piles of rubble and walking through dangerous zones. With a low rate of success in detecting the scent of living humans, the dog’s morales began to decline. Handlers lifted their spirits by simulating a “mock success rescue” to increase the dog’s motivation and feeling of accomplishment. Veterinarians were on site as these four-legged heroes needed their paw pads, eyes and nose cleaned often due to getting covered in dust, smoke and human remains.

Heroic Efforts and Rescue Operations

Heroes moved into action, including 10,000 emergency rescue workers. More than 300 of those heroes were 9/11 rescue dogs. The final living person rescued from Ground Zero was Genelle Guzman-McMillan. She had been trapped for 27 hours. While working in her office on the 64th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, she heard a terrible noise and began racing down the stairs. She stopped at the 13th floor to remove her shoes that were rubbing- when the building imploded. It wasn’t a human who came to her rescue. It was a four-legged hero who found her. Only 20 people were pulled alive from that pile of rubble, and she was the last.

Bretagne: A Symbol of Resilience

Bretagne was the last surviving rescue dog who worked in the aftermath of 9/11. The heroism of these canines has been documented in books such as Dog Heroes of September 11th and on Animal Planet’s Hero Dogs of 9/11. In June of 2016, the last known surviving search dog of 9/11, Bretagne was laid to rest just shy of 17 years old.

The Legacy of 9/11 Rescue Dogs

Hundreds more loyal, devoted, and hardworking four-legged heroes risked life and limb on September 11th and the days and weeks that followed. Whether searching for survivors, locating remains, or simply being a source of comfort and hope during the bleakest moment in modern history, we must always remember and honor.

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