When the brave men and women, combing Ground Zero at the World Trade Center for survivors, needed the most sophisticated, effective tool available in the world, they turned to search and rescue canines – dogs specially trained to find live humans and human remains at mass casualty sites and natural disasters. No computer or machine can accomplish even a fraction of what these search and rescue dogs can do. As the world watched in continuing horror, the search and rescue mission became one of recovery, attempting to find some fragment of a human to match up with the list of known victims – to give their loved ones closure.
Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey sent dogs and their handlers, trained to work at disaster scenes. New Jersey Task Force 1 arrived in Manhattan on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. Pennsylvania Task Force 1 joined them soon after. These teams from the Delaware Valley joined others from New York and all over the country, tasked with teetering on mountains of debris, tunneling into crevices, burrowing under rubble and balancing on twisted beams, first in the hope of finding survivors and then with the grim task of locating remains.
From New Jersey Task Force 1, Sarah Atlas, and her German Shepherd, Anna, marched past rows of anguished first responders after each shift, grimly watching the desperate faces of those hoping someone would be found. Anna found the bodies of two FDNY firefighters. Also hailing from New Jersey was Lorrie Clemmo and her Border Collie, Blitz, who found the remains of a fallen firefighter within fifteen minutes of her arrival at the site. Another New Jerseyan, Laura Lopresti and her dog, Osa, a live find German Shepherd, would act as a therapy dog between calls, eager to help and show love, sensing the desperation as hours then days passed with no survivors found. Sonny Whynman, who brought his German Shepherd, Piper, from New Jersey, said entering the site was like walking into hell, but managed to help find at least fifteen bodies. Another New Jersey German Shepherd, Quest, and his handler, Penny Sullivan, initially intent on finding survivors, also found only human remains, and acted as therapy dogs for the workers when not searching.
Sonny Whynman, who brought his German Shepherd, Piper, from New Jersey, said entering the site was like walking into hell, but managed to find at least fifteen bodies.
When Pennsylvanian, John Gilkey arrived at Ground Zero with his Labrador Retriever, Bear, he realized he and Bear were standing on over ten feet of rubble and dust. Bear found at least forty cadaver sites and fell asleep at one point on a firefighter’s lap, providing solace. Another Pennsylvania Task Force 1 deployed dog was Logan, a German Shepherd, who travelled on a bus to the site with her handler, Rose Keller Deluca, barking at the New Yorkers lining the streets to give them support. Her playful spirit brought a bit of respite to the workers who needed a break from the despair and sadness. Also from the Keystone State was Bobbie Snyder and her Labrador Retriever, Willow, who never wavered from the task at hand and even though she was trained for live finds, assisted in locating cadavers.
The rubble from the World Trade Center contained precious human remains, reduced to almost microscopic pieces amid the debris. Workers trucked this sacred material to Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island where more canine teams tirelessly toiled. Lorrie Clemmo from New Jersey, who had been at Ground Zero with her Collie, Blitz, mentioned above, did another tour here with her other Border Collie, Clare, finding remains and bringing closure to families. Denise Grimm, another New Jerseyan, worked with her Rottweiler, Phoenix, tirelessly, locating remains and moving on to the next pile, all the while overwhelmed by the smell of jet fuel and death permeating the site. Michelle Verrall, brought her Boxer, Louie, from Southeastern Pennsylvania, and at one point made fourteen finds in twenty minutes, inspiring the other workers to continue.
Twenty years ago, these amazing canines, along with their handlers, honored the dead by tirelessly searching for what was left of their earthly bodies – the only thing left that could be done for their grieving families. These stories demonstrate the marvel of nature – God created these animals and mankind trained them to do a job impossible for a human or any machine.
Many times, the toll of the evilness of 9/11 can be too much to bear. The innocent lives suddenly taken, the first responders who gave their lives, the many who became sick and maimed, our brave military warriors who sacrifice to keep terror away from our shores and the families still mourning senseless losses all remind us that a danger exists that will stop at nothing to destroy our liberty and freedom. While the 9/11 canines could not bring us complete closure – an impossibility when we must remain vigilant against terror and constant threats to our way of life– they do symbolize hope. When mankind uses God’s gifts the way they were intended – for good rather than evil – we can achieve anything.
While the 9/11 canines could not bring us complete closure… they do symbolize hope.
If the saying that all dogs go to heaven is true, then I imagine that the spirits of these 9/11 canines are continuing their mission, providing hope and comfort and solace to the souls of all those that we lost. May our flag continue to remind us of the vigilance required to guard the liberty and freedom we treasure. And may God continue to bless America.
Editors Note: The stories about the 9/11 canines were derived from Nona Kilgore Bauer’s book: Dog Heroes of September 11th.
Linda A. Kerns is a co-founder of Broad + Liberty. @lindakernslaw. firstname.lastname@example.org.