Inspiring 9/11 Dogs: Remembering Our Four-Legged Heroes

Sep 1, 2022

By Sassafras Lowrey CPDT-KA

It’s hard for most of us to believe that it has been more than 20 years since the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. As we look back to that day, some of the less known heroes are the working dogs who along with their handlers helped to save lives during the unimaginable tragedy. In the aftermath of the attack, approximately 300 specially trained dogs deployed to the World Trade Center to search for survivors, find remains, and comfort the first responders. These brave dogs worked tirelessly in unimaginable conditions, here are a few of these hero dogs to remember this year.

1. Roselle

Roselle went to work at the World Trade Center  Tower One on September 9, 2001, like any other day. Roselle was a guide dog for her handler Michael Hingson who worked on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center as a sales manager. On that September morning, after the first plane hit, Roselle guided her handler down the 78 flights of stairs to the street. Once they reached the street Roselle guided Hingson away from the area. You can learn more about Roselle’s brave work in the book “Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero” Roselle passed away at the age of 13 in 2011.

roselle 9-11

Photo credit:

2. Riley

Riley was a member of FEMA’s Pennsylvania Task Force and was responsible for locating the bodies of firefighters at ground zero. The photo of Riley being transported over the rubble to be able to access other areas of the rubble became famous and is one of the most iconic images of the 9/11 search dogs. Although Riley was not a trained cadaver dog (dogs who are trained to find human remains) Riley rose to the challenges of the job and provided encouragement to first responders at the same time.

riley 9/11

Photo credit: Newsweek

3. Trakr

Trakr the German Shepherd  was a retired police dog from Nova Scotia but he and his handler, a Canadian police officer, drove to NYC to support rescue efforts. Trakr searched tirelessly for victims suffering from burns and smoke inhalation from the rubble. Trakr is credited with having found the last surviving 9/11 victim, 27 hours after the towers collapsed. Before Trakr passed away his DNA was collected and he was cloned, producing five cloned puppies.

trakr 9/11 dog

4. Appollo

Appollo was a graduate of the NYPD Canine Special Operations Division and served as an NYC police dog in the 1990s. Apollo was the first search and rescue dog (along with his handler Peter Davis) to arrive at the World Trade Center. Apollo arrived at the site fifteen minutes after the collapse of the south tower and would spend weeks searching the rubble piles. Apollo earned the Dickin Medal and the AKC Humane Fund Award for Canine Excellence for his tireless search work.

appollo 9/11 dog

Photo credit: AKC

5. Bretagne

Bretagne responded to disasters across the United States during her career including 9/11 before eventually retiring from the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department and as a FEMA search dog.  She continued to work until she was 10 years old, and in retirement, she supported the training of other search and rescue dogs.  Bretagne passed away at the age of sixteen in 2016. Bretagne was the last known surviving search and rescue dog who had responded to ground zero. Before she was euthanized, firefighters gave her a final salute  as she quietly hobbled into the clinic. She left the clinic in a casket being carried by pallbearers from the fire department’s search and rescue unit.

bretagne 9_11 dog

Photo credit: AKC

6. Nikie

One of the dogs was on the scene not in a search capacity but to provide comfort and support to firefighters and other first responders. Nikie was a Golden Retriever who worked the Ground Zero site for 9 months. Nikie was the only dog at the site that was credentialed Canine Disaster Relief Services. Nikie provided crisis intervention support for the people on the scene of the disaster.

nikie dog ground zero

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Search & Rescue Dogs Today

Although 9/11 was a moment when many people first became familiar with search and rescue dogs, working search and rescue dogs have long played an important role in working alongside first responders. Today search and rescue dogs along with their handlers continue to deploy to disaster sites around the world. These dogs, like the 9/11 search teams, are trained to find missing people including survivors buried in rubble from earthquakes and building collapses.

Some dogs (cadaver dogs) are also able to find the presence of remains, to bring a small amount of comfort and closure to families and loved ones. If you are interested in learning more about Search and Rescue work, including how to potentially begin training your own dog you can learn more from FEMA and from Search and Rescue dog groups in your local area.

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