ITheir names were Bretagne, Coby, Guiness, Ricky, Trakr, Riley… During the days which followed the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States, these goldens retrievers, German shepherds, Labradors or rat terriers surveyed the ruins of the towers binoculars of the World Trade Center in New York looking for survivors.
“We hoped to find hundreds of people buried in the rubble”, tell the New York Times Chris Selfridge, the handler of Riley, a golden retriever who helped locate the bodies of several firefighters. Since 1er September, the exhibition 9/11 Remembered: Search & Rescue Dogs, at the Museum of the United States Canine Federation, theAmerican Kennel Club, in New York, pays tribute to the key role of these rescue dogs.
After the collapse of the Twin Towers, hundreds of rescue teams from across the country, supported by dogs, came to the scene to try to find survivors in the rubble. Naturally, the first on the scene were part of the New York police force: they arrived at the South Tower just fifteen minutes after it collapsed and took turns there for twelve hours a day, for ten days.
Only a hundred teams were prepared for this type of scenario
Debra Tosch, former director of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, estimates that around three hundred search teams traveled to New York after the disaster. But only a hundred of them were prepared for this type of scenario. “Many teams had dogs trained to find people missing in the wild, not to find victims buried under a mountain of twisted metal, glass, smoking rubble, surrounded by urban noise”, she says.
However, the rescue of Genelle Guzman, twenty-seven hours after the fall of the South Tower – she is the last of thirty survivors of the World Trade Center – was possible thanks to Trakr, a German Shepherd of the Canadian police force. After the attacks, his master, James Symington, took to the road from Nova Scotia to help his American counterparts … without waiting for the green light from his superiors.
Arriving in New York on the night of September 11-12, Trakr and his master detected a sign of life under the rubble around 6 or 7 a.m.. The firefighters dug and found Genelle Guzman, under ten meters of rubble. Ironically, when his superiors saw him on television taking part in the rescue operations, James Symington was suspended for leaving his post without authorization – the person concerned will eventually leave Canadian law enforcement.
After Trakr’s death, in 2009, his master did … clone. Among the test-tube puppies, one of them was baptized Deja Vu, the others Trustt, Valor, Prodigy and Solace. The former policeman then explained that he wanted to turn them into search and rescue dogs, like their DNA provider:
“If they show the same intelligence, courage and determination as he does, they will help save more lives.” “
The list of heroic animals of “Time”
In 2011, the magazine Time had also hailed the memory of the German Shepherd, including him in his list of heroic animals, alongside Bucephalus, the horse of Alexander the Great.
Since January 2020, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, in Manhattan, had already begun to pay tribute to these unsung heroes of September 11, through the work of photographer Charlotte Dumas, who in 2011 produced the portraits of fifteen of the canines having participated in the search in the rubble of the towers. The exhibition K-9 Courage was quickly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic but remains visible until spring 2022.
In the presentation text of the exhibition, the museum recalls that the dog teams have, by their presence, “Provided emotional support to rescuers and families”. Since then, their role has grown : dozens of dogs intervened after the passage of hurricane Katrina (Louisiana, 2005), the shooting in Parkland (2018), or the collapse of a building in Surfside, in June, events which mourned Florida.
These animals bring, beyond their concrete help, a precious comfort for the victims and their entourage, like Brittany, the last of the “dogs of September 11”, died in 2016 at the age of 17 : this golden retriever, retired from first aid eight years earlier, has since served as a reading aid dog in an elementary school in Texas. His remains had had the honors of the American flag… Like the other heroes of this tragedy.