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'Look for the helpers.' A look at the furry helpers of 9/11


Mr. Rogers once told us, 'When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are willing to help.' '


One of the unintended lessons that 9/11 taught us was that those helpers don't always have to be humans. Sometimes they're covered in fur and walk on 4 legs. 

Not much is really known about 'Disaster Search Dogs', it isn't something most people have to think about, thankfully. There were an estimated 300 specially trained dogs with experience not only in search and rescue, but police work, therapy, and comfort provision. 

From 911Memorial.org:

Search and rescue dogs (SAR) specialize in disaster response skills. Trained to detect the scent of living humans, their mission was to find survivors buried in the rubble. One of the dogs found the last living person rescued from Ground Zero, 27 hours after the collapse of the towers. As the days went on, rescue and recovery workers realized the chance of finding survivors was increasingly slim, and the operation turned its focus to recovery. Cadaver dogs, trained to find human remains, were also on the scene.

Alongside their handlers, the four-legged heroes worked tirelessly climbing huge piles of debris while fires still smoldered. The search for signs of life or human remains was mentally and physically taxing on the dogs, who became discouraged and started losing their drive to continue. Recognizing the importance of motivation among the dogs, handlers would stage "mock finds" so the animals could feel successful.


Meaning that living people hid themselves among the rubble and debris so that the dogs could 'find' them. They did this because the dogs were becoming disheartened and depressed by not recovering live people.

Always look for the helpers, right? So let's look at these furry helpers:

For weeks, these dogs hunted for signs of life in the ruins. 

“We went there expecting to find hundreds of people trapped,” said Chris Selfridge, 54, of Johnstown, Pa., who was Riley’s handler. “But we didn’t find anybody alive.”


Here are some of our 'helpers':

Apollo, the first search and rescue dog to arrive. He was the first police K-9 to respond.

 “We got there right after the buildings collapsed. To get to the rubble, we had to go through almost waist-deep water. All of a sudden he disappeared, fell into a hole. Then this big fireball comes up and he comes running out. He was on fire. I brushed off the burning embers and he went right back to searching.”

  • Cara, a Beauceron, was the first to test out a remote camera system. 
  • Morgan, an English Springer Spaniel cadaver dog. 
  • Sage, a Border Collie who worked at the Pentagon as well as in Iraq.
  • Satchmo, a giant schnauzer deployed with Florida Task Force 1. 'Our first day at Ground Zero was September 20. By then everyone knew it had turned into a recovery mission but nobody wanted to admit it.'
  • Gunner, a rottweiler. He died in 2005. 
  • Louie, the only SAR (search and rescue) boxer at ground zero. 
  • Sonny, a Doberman.

This is just a small sampling of our best friends. 

Our helpers. We do not deserve dogs. 

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