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September 9, 2011 at 6:07 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

In Honor of 9/11 Search and Rescue Dogs

By Victoria Swanson More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Paws & Awws Blog Series

On September 11, tragedy the likes of which we hadn't seen in generations hit our soil. We all remember where we were, what we were doing, and who we were with when the Towers fell, and we always will. The significance of the attacks can never be underestimated or forgotten, and neither should all those who lost their lives on that fateful day.

It's important that we take a moment today to thank all of our firefighters, police, emergency personnel, military members, and many others that dedicated, and in some cases sacrificed, their lives to help others during this tragedy. In addition, I'd like to honor the Search and Rescue dogs, and their handlers, who selflessly gave their all to find survivors beneath the rubble at Ground Zero.

What Is an SAR Dog?

Search and Rescue dogs (SARs) have been trained to smell out people who have been injured, lost, or buried. The two types of SARs are air scenting and trailing dogs. Common SAR breeds include herding dogs, such as German or Belgian shepherds and border collies, as well as sporting dogs like Golden and Labrador retrievers. These breeds in particular have reputations for working diligently with humans, but a dog of any breed or mix can be a SAR dog with the right determination and spirit. 

These dogs work off-lead (no collar or leash) and are able to cover large areas to sniff out human scents. They were absolutely vital in the search and rescue efforts in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. 

Ground Zero SAR dogs

Approximately 300 dogs were sent to Ground Zero to search for survivors, the largest deployment of SAR dogs in our history. Some of the dogs wore booties to protect them from dangerous broken glass and sharp debris. However, many of them didn't in order to dig more effectively. These dogs could also climb ladders and crawl into small spaces that emergency crews could not reach.

The 9/11 SAR dogs worked relentlessly, some of them as many as 12 hours per day for weeks on end. Every night, the dogs were given a decontamination bath; their eyes, ears, mouth, and nose were rinsed out thoroughly in addition to a thorough scrubbing of their bodies. Their paws were cleaned gently and, if injured, bandaged.

These dogs were trained in finding live humans. Unfortunately, during the Ground Zero search, many dogs found casualties instead. After weeks and weeks of this, some of the dogs experienced stress and depression. Dogs that had difficulty finding live humans would sometimes lie next to the victim(s) they found and refuse to move. 

A few of the SAR dogs that worked at Ground Zero are still with us. However, the ones that have since passed have left an everlasting paw print on the hearts of those they have saved. During the tenth anniversary of the attacks, there was a recognition ceremony honoring the Search and Rescue teams held in Jersey City, NJ, directly across the water from Ground Zero. This memorial ensured that these wonderful dogs will never be forgotten.

Becoming a Search and Rescue (SAR) Team

  • It takes dedication and many hours of training for a dog to become a member of Search and Rescue team. Often times, their training begins at just 8 weeks of age. 
  • Trainers hone the dogs’ basic instincts for herding and pursuing, as well as their pack instincts in order to fully develop the dogs’ abilities. For instance, the dogs are taught to “find it” and “show me.”
  • The cost of training can be close to $20,000, but this does not guarantee that a dog will become a SAR dog. Furthermore, traveling and going on the Search and Rescue missions during your dog’s time as an SAR can run as high as $100,000. 
  • Dogs usually retire from being a SAR dog when they are 5- to 10-years old.
  • If you think this is something you would be interested in pursuing, check into a reputable SAR dog organization.

We owe so much to these dogs, not only for their tireless efforts during such a terrible time in American history, but for the everyday struggles they willingly confront on our behalf. It's only right that we take a moment to recognize them for their hard work and dedication.

Photo Credit:

Kelly Garbo@flickr


Dog Fancy Magazine, 2011

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