On September 11, we remember the canine heroes.
Since many thousands of workers were a daily part of the World Trade Center population, some of them of course had guide dogs, and two of these, the Labrador Retrievers Salty and Roselle, achieved heroic status.
Salty was trained by Guiding Eyes and worked with Omar Rivera, who worked at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on the 71st floor. Rivera’s supervisor Donna Enright helped guide them to safety on the way down, while Salty refused to leave Rivera’s side, despite the well-meant efforts of strangers trying to assist.
More on Salty’s 9/11 story can be found in Harry and Sally Choron’s 2005 book Planet Dog.
Roselle, who was trained by Guide Dogs for the Blind and worked with Michael Hingson, is the more famous of the two. Roselle led not only Hingson, but 30 other people as well, to safety from the 78th floor, then once outside allowed firefighters to pet her as a stress reliever. Once Hingson was safely outside, Roselle led him to a nearby subway station, where they assisted a woman who was newly blind due to falling debris.
Hingson later worked for Guide Dogs for the Blind and wrote a book in 2011 about Roselle and the September 11 experience titled Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero, which is well worth reading.
Salty and Roselle together were awarded the Dickin Medal in 2002 by the British group People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, which is the animal equivalent of the British Victoria Cross or the American Medal of Honor.
Also receiving a Dickin Medal in 2002 was a German Shepherd named Appollo, which was given on behalf of all search and rescue dogs for their efforts at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania at the Flight 93 wreckage.
For more on search and rescue dogs involved after the September 11 attacks, we highly recommend reading Nona Kilgore Bauer’s 2006 coffee table book Dog Heroes of September 11th: A Tribute to America’s Search and Rescue Dogs, which features numerous photos and a series of short interviews with nearly every handler who was involved at Ground Zero, the Pentagon or Flight 93.
Jake the Labrador was a rescue dog from Utah who primarily who live victims trapped in the wreckage, though he also assisted somewhat in finding remains. His handler remembered him as a hard worker who never let a disability (one leg was several inches shorter than the rest) stop him.
Denise Corliss from Texas, who worked with Bretagne (“Brittany”) the Golden Retriever for a 10-day shift beginning September 17, talked a lot about the dogs’ ability to comfort the humans around them, and what a blessing that was.
“I was so glad that I had my partner there to comfort those workers….and to comfort me,” Corliss said (page 37).
There were a handful of handlers who talk in the book about how their dogs view their work as a sort of game, which occasionally made things awkward when they found a body. The dogs would expect a reward of attention or a quick game of fetch as a reward for doing a good job, and all these other workers didn’t quite get it – it’s like laughing at a funeral.
So one of the challenges as far as taking care of the dogs assisting in the September 11 recovery process was keeping their spirits up, since the dogs would pick up on the humans’ depression, fear and anxiety.
“Dogs do not perceive such devastation as a tragedy; they are incapable of making sure distinctions,” Bauer writes in the preface.
Indiana’s Marti Vanada recorded how her introverted Golden Retriever/Border Collie mix Polly gradually was worn down during her deployment, which began September 12. Firefighters would often break down in her fur while giving a hug, and everyone quickly recognized Polly as “that Frisbee dog,” since she carried her flying disc everywhere.
These are just a few of the stories from that time, and there is no telling exactly how much the canine heroes helped the world during the time just after September 11. We thank them, their handlers, and all the police, firefighters and other personnel involved for their efforts in helping right a world thrown into disarray.