September 11th, 2001 was the day that changed everyone who witnessed it, whether it was up close or from afar. Many people who read about it now weren’t even alive when it happened. This often makes it seem like it is some far removed story, more akin to something that a student would read in a history book than an actual event that literally brought the entire world to a halt. That said, it doesn’t change the contributions that both people and animals made in order to do whatever they could to help. A recent exhibit taking place in New York honors the canine heroes who were brought to the site in the hopes of finding victims.
A Job Like None Before It
Typically, dogs that are trained to find people in rubble can be any breed. While a lot of people see German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers in these roles, it is just as possible to have a shelter dog that is not even a purebred who is just as capable of achieving success. In fact, there was at least one such dog on the site where the Twin Towers had once stood in New York City. His name was Ricky. He was a tiny rat terrier mix that specialized in fitting into small spaces that no human could even think of getting into. This allowed him to go places that people simply couldn’t go, all in hopes of being able to find individuals that were trapped In Pockets that would allow them to have survived. The hope was that rescuers would find people who were injured, but who could still be saved, if only they could be reached in time. That is precisely why they employed dogs like Ricky. Many of the spaces that he was able to get through were not accessible to even a German Shepherd. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t anybody to save. He and other rescue dogs went for days upon days, searching tirelessly without any success. In many cases, they were finding dead bodies. In many more cases, the destruction was so complete that they weren’t finding anything at all.
A Long Time Coming
This is an exhibit that was a long time in the making. It is being held at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, located on the same grounds where the Twin Towers once stood. Many people have been asking for a Memorial dedicated specifically to the dogs who worked the site for several years. When asked why it has taken 20 years for the museum to install such an exhibit, the reply was a touching one. Museum officials commented that they wanted to do something special for the 20th anniversary of this tragedy and they couldn’t think of anything more fitting than honoring the dogs that tirelessly worked the site, many of them to the point of collapse. These were dogs who were trained to find individuals alive in various types of building collapses and other similar situations. They had never seen the type of destruction that was seen at the World Trade Center site. As such, many of their handlers actually pretended to be victims during the few precious minutes of downtime the dogs would get, allowing the dogs to effectively find a victim. This was done after it was discovered that many of the dogs were exhibiting clear signs of depression after not being able to find anyone alive for days on end.
It wasn’t just the mental aspect of things that posed danger for the dogs or their handlers. In reality, there was danger everywhere, lurking around every corner and popping its head up with every step. Fires were still raging underneath the rubble and in some cases, that Rebel led to shafts that were dozens of feet in height. Since the rebel was unsteady beneath the feet of dogs and rescuers alike, it was easy to take a misstep and end up becoming a victim as opposed to being a rescuer. This was something that the dogs’ handlers felt keenly, as no search and rescue dog handler wants to see their partner and best friend put into that type of danger. Nevertheless, they showed up every day to do the job and the only individuals that were more willing to do that job or the dogs themselves. Many of the dogs worked to the point of sheer exhaustion and many more were injured.
In fact, the rubble was so hot that a number of the dogs suffered severe burns. While it was coming for the dogs to have paws that were burned so severely they could scarcely walk, other dogs suffered burns to additional parts of their body. One particular dog that comes to mind is his German Shepherd named Trakr. He combed through the rubble without stopping, showing an immense drive to find someone who was alive. Unfortunately, he ended up collapsing from the heat and the sheer exhaustion of the job. When he did, he was burned over a significant portion of his body. The same dog was later lauded for his dedication and bravery, being created in front of a group of individuals with bandages still clinging to his body.
For many people, it is hard to wrap their heads around the fact that this year marks the 20th anniversary of an event that literally changed thousands of lives in the blink of an eye. As previously mentioned, even those who were not directly impacted were affected in one way or another. For thousands upon thousands of more individuals, the changes were much more abrupt and far more permanent. Through it all, the dogs were a constant at the site. It only seems right that they’d be honored for their contributions and this time around, they are finally getting the owner that they deserve.