After the twin towers and the Pentagon were hit on September 11, 2001, the largest U.S.  deployment of search and rescue dogs in history rushed to these sites with their handlers. In addition to these 350 brave K9 heroes, more than 300 therapeutic dogs were stationed to aid and comfort rescue workers and volunteers. To this day, the altruistic value of their efforts remains unparalleled.

A Magnified Lens

Search and rescue (SAR) dogs are trained to go where people cannot. Their ability to smell, hear, and sense things way above our natural “radars,” along with their extraordinary instincts, allow them to pick up on signals that can result in saving lives.

Unfortunately, the risks to search and rescue dogs are very high. Inhalation of various toxins (like asbestos or gasoline), broken glass, fire, and dangerous, uneven terrain pose immediate risks. However, some emergency situations can create long-term or chronic health problems. Because of this, search and rescue dogs after 9/11 were only permitted to work in shifts of 7-14 consecutive days.

Search and rescue dogs at ground zero worked long, grueling hours, and had to undergo a decontamination process. Eye washes, baths, and physical examinations of any wounds, cuts, or abrasions were swiftly tended to so they could continue working after a few hours of rest.

Honoring Those Who Served

Many different breeds were represented in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but the most common ones were:

  • Golden retrievers
  • German shepherds
  • Yellow, chocolate, and black labrador retrievers
  • Border collies
  • Rat terriers
  • Australian and Belgian shepherds
  • Portuguese water dogs
  • Belgian malinois

The last search and rescue dog from 9/11 was euthanized in 2016. Her name was Bretagne, and she was known for wiggling into tight spaces and dark holes to recover victims. After 9/11, she was integral to the rescue efforts of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Other Heroic Search and Rescue Dogs

  • Ricky, a rat terrier, was less than 20 pounds and could climb ladders, search places too small for other dogs, and bark until human help arrived. He was instrumental in recovering the personal effects of many victims that could then be returned to their families.
  • Hansen was a 7-year-old Belgian shepherd with incredible longevity. He worked more than 150 days at ground zero.
  • Jake was a black labrador from Utah who was one of 200 dogs trained to respond to natural and manmade disasters within 24 hours. He worked at ground zero until it was confirmed that no survivors remained.
  • Red, another black lab, worked on a 27-dog team tasked with finding DNA evidence in the northern parking lot of the Pentagon.
  • German shepherd Apollo was a great SAR dog and teacher to other trainees. He worked 18-hour days at ground zero.

Hats Off

While people are commonly covered in protective gear on the site of disaster, search and rescue dogs need their noses, eyes, ears, and paw pads more or less fully exposed in order to perform their duties well. They’re selfless lifesavers, and the team at Leon Valley Veterinary Hospital couldn’t be more impressed by – or grateful for – their heroism.