FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue teams search for survivors amongst the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
It’s been nine years since the tragedy of the 9/11 attack but people from all over the world remain touched by the images of Search and Rescue (SAR) dogs digging through the Ground Zero rubble to find survivors. About 400 dogs were deployed at the former World Trade Center. It was the largest deployment of dogs in the United States’ history. Approximately 80 of those dogs were FEMA-certified.
Thunder searches through the rubble for victims.
This picture was taken on September 21, 2001, at Ground Zero, the former World Trade Center, which rescue workers dubbed “The Pile.” Kent Olson and his dog, Thunder, from Lakewood, Washington searched through the ruins for victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Look at the sweet dog’s face – it was a true hero.
Four-Legged Heroes of 9/11
Also taken on September 21, 2001, this picture shows FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue teams search for survivors amongst the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
Rescue workers talk together at site of the collapsed World Trade Center where recovery operations are underway.
SAR dogs and their handlers were in New York City for weeks after the tragedy, looking for survivors, and later, for the remains of the lost buried underneath the steel and rubble.
Rescue workers work with dogs to search for victims of the World Trade Center attacks.
On September 21, 2001, you can see the heartache and despair on this rescue worker’s face. It is his dog who comforts him, wordlessly, while working at his side to search for victims at The Pile.
These four-legged heroes had thousands of hours of training before 9/11.
Dogs and handlers work together, often starting when the dog is only a puppy, and train for hundreds or thousands of hours to be able save lives.
Urban Search and Rescue dogs that were deployed at Ground Zero included Australian shepherds, German shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Border Collies, Portuguese Water Dogs, Belgian Malinois, Giant Schnauzers, and even Rat Terriers. What a dog could do with its nose was invaluable in the search. What a dog could do with its heart was equally invaluable.
Hero dogs worked miracles on depressed humans at The Pile.
Handlers, cops, and firemen were under unbelievable stress at the former World Trade Center. These canine emergency workers were tremendously valuable for their therapeutic influences on their human counterparts at the disaster site. It was beyond amazing what a licking tongue could do to lift a crushed human spirit, restoring morale to discouraged and depressed workers at Ground Zero.
When they couldn’t find any more survivors, some heroic dogs grew depressed.
It was reported that as the weeks passed and the dogs searched for human remains, that some grew depressed when they could no longer find survivors. These heroic dogs are trained to find living people, not just the dead or body parts. The dogs grew stressed and disheartened as if they were unsuccessful. Workers started hiding among the twisted wreckage, under one or two steel beams, in mock rescues where the dogs would be thrilled again to find a living human.
People might not show their emotional wreckage to humans, but they did to the dogs. On September 21, 2001, Mike Scott from the California Task Force-8 and his dog, Billy, search through the rubble for victims of the September 11 terrorist attack.
Fireman, policemen, and handlers worked tirelessly without complaining. But as the days stretched to weeks and beyond, some of the human heroes had a hard time dealing with their own emotional wreckage. It was reported that a fireman, for example, might not pour out his woes on a fellow fireman, but if he was alone with a SAR dog, then he or she could pour out their tears and fears on their furry friend.
SAR Dogs worked, were injured, patched up, and went back to work.
In this FEMA photo, on September 20, 2001, Dr. H. Marie Suthers-McCable, D.V.M. from Virginia Tech, works on Kinsay, a member of the Texas Task Force One Urban Search and Rescue team. Kinsay was injured while searching in the wreckage. Fellow team member Bob Deeds and an unidentified other provide assistance. Injured or not, the dogs were always ready to go back and search some more.
Ohio Task Force-1 prepares to begin work at the World Trade Center disaster site.
SAR dogs and handlers came from all over the United States to help find survivors. Taken on September 18, 2001, Ohio Task Force-1 member Gary Flynn and his partner Tascha prepare to begin work at the World Trade Center disaster site. Tascha worked without wanting to cease until the heat and smoke became too much.
An SAR dog is one of the most important members of the rescue team. The dogs are capable of digging and squeezing into small areas that are otherwise inaccessible to humans. The heroic dogs use their intense sense of smell to find survivors.
Rescue workers work with dogs to search for victims of the World Trade Center attacks.
Another unit of dogs were brought in after the 9/11 attacks to “The Pile.” These dogs were sent specifically to provide emotional support to rescue workers suffering from trauma at the disaster site.
French Urban Search and Rescue Task Force works with his Alsation to uncover survivors.
More than U.S. SAR teams lent a hand. The world was in shock and heartbroken to see the immense devastation after the Twin Towers collapsed. 2,996 people, including the 19 hijackers, were killed. Pictured here is a member of the French Urban Search and Rescue Task Force who is working with his Alsation to uncover survivors at The Pile.
American Red Cross volunteer Pat Gartman puts boots on the dog, Uno, at the V-MET tent near Ground Zero.
Steel and wreckage burned for days, then weeks, but SAR dogs kept working to find survivors. Many of the heroic dogs were injured. Pictured here, on September 29, 2001, American Red Cross volunteer Pat Gartman puts boots on the dog, Uno, at the V-MET tent near Ground Zero. The boots helped the dogs from being burned and cut in the wreckage.
FEMA Urban Search and Rescue teams work to clear rubble and search for survivors at the World Trade Center.
The heroic dogs would crawl on their bellies, squeeze through holes, and dig to find survivors. To all of the 9/11 heroes, canine and human, we thank you for your selfless bravery. We will never forget your dedication.
Search and rescue after World Trade Center collapsed.
Photojournalist Bill Biggart captured this shot and many more immediately following the planes crashing into the Twin Towers. Just that quickly, SAR dogs were on the scene and working. After Bill Biggart captured these unsung heroes, he was killed when the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed under him. Four days later, a SAR dog found his body. Among his three demolished cameras, his burnt-edged press card, and six rolls of film, searchers found one preserved compact flash card carrying almost 150 digital images.
Urban Search and Rescue hunt through rubble for survivors.
This Urban Search and Rescue crew came all the way from Washington state to search through the destruction for survivors. Search and rescue dogs helped save lives and helped heal hearts.
Billy and owner search through the rubble for victims of the September 11 terrorist attack.
On September 14, 2001, medical teams were working to patch up and care for vital members of the rescue crew – the dogs. Near the World Trade Center rubble, this rescue dog gets treated by a specially trained canine patrol. These special canine medical teams treated as many as 100 injured dogs per day in the first few days of searching. SAR dogs suffered burns, cuts on their paws from jagged glass or sharp steel wreckage that the dogs climbed over and dug into, in order to find survivors.
Rescue workers administer fluids to hydrate one of the most important members of the rescue team, a search dog.
On September 25, 2001, the canine rescue worker stands in the midst of debris and continues to search. This may seem too cruel to say, but it might help you comprehend what these heroic dogs really did for this nation. Did you know that one year after the 9/11 attacks, New York City’s medical examiners were still trying to identify 19,858 body pieces? No wonder the dogs were disheartened, even if they kept hunting for living humans. It is living people, the survivors, that these heroic dogs train hundreds upon hundreds of hours to find.
Firefighters and canine rescue workers stand amid piles of rubble from the collapsed World Trade Center.
FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue teams, human and dogs, are unsung heroes. They worked in a nightmare from which they couldn’t awaken, because it was an awful reality. Some of the most successful SAR dogs from 9/11 have passed on their genes to new dogs working to find survivors.
Colorado Task Force One member Ann Wickman and her canine counterpart Jenner skirt a mountainous pile of rubble at the site of the collapsed World Trade Center. Dogs would search until they literally collapsed with exhaustion.
Rescue dog gets treated by a medical team specially trained to care for the canine patrol.
The death and destruction was too much to handle at The Pile. Yet the heroic dogs kept digging, kept hunting, kept searching. Search and rescue dogs deserve tribute. The SAR dogs who worked after the 9/11 tragedy deserve to be recognized and remembered.
A canine rescue worker stands in the midst of debris at the site of the destroyed World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.
Dogs are man’s best friend, woman’s too. Medical research has proven that dogs can work to lift depression just as well as Prozac – but Prozac is incapable of loving you back.
SAR dogs are meant to retire after 5 to 10 years. One 12-year-old SAR dog found the bodies of two missing firemen. The dog curled in a ball next to them and wouldn’t move. Even later on, the dog wouldn’t eat. As if too heartbroken at the tragic loss of life, the dog lost its will to go on until his handler took him home. These dogs want, with all their hearts and all their training, to find people alive. There was so much death surrounding the SAR dogs, but they worked night and day, without complaining about hazards or their injuries; they kept working even when there was no hope left to find a survivor.
Jenner and Hoke, members of Colorado Task Force-1. The dogs earned some well deserved rest after working so hard to find survivors at Ground Zero.
Never in the history of the United States had dogs been called upon to serve humans like they were during the devastation of the 9/11 attacks.
Thank you to FEMA and its photographers for the great images and captions which help tell the heroic stories of humans and canines.