When I had signed up for a veterinary disaster team about 9 months before 9/11/01, I thought I was signing up to help animals in hurricanes, floods and tornadoes. A terrorist attack was not supposed to be my first deployment. Despite my fear of the unknown, I knew I had to go. Our mission was to help the search and rescue dogs. We would care for them and make sure they stayed healthy so they could keep searching. So, on 9/11/01 I left for New York City. The last image I saw of the twin towers was of them collapsing.
There was no way to prepare myself for the magnitude of what I saw. There I was, feeling so small and so unimportant, standing next to a pile of twisted steel and metal that use to be the World Trade Centers. The ground was so dusty, and I remember watching my tears hit and splatter the dust everywhere.
I spent two weeks at Ground Zero, and it changed my life. It was there that I had some of my best and worst moments. Despite all the hard work, sleepless nights and tears I had, I would do it all again. My team made sure those dogs stayed healthy so that they could keep working. Every day before and after they visited the pile they would come to us. Their owners would share with us their horrifying stories of what they had seen and we would comfort them by assuring them their four-legged partner was doing great.
Those dogs never tired. They did what was asked of them because they loved their job. And when no one was being rescued the dogs started becoming bored. So the handlers played games with their dogs. They would pretend to be lost so their search and rescue dog would find them and feel like they had done a good job. Those dogs provided a lot of emotional support to those who had lost so much. There they were, every day, tails wagging and providing love to those around them. You would watch them wander up to a disheartened fireman or police officer and sit beside them for comfort. They were amazing to watch and work with. They became my friends: Apollo, Bravo, Jake and many others.
Seven years later, those same dogs are getting quite old. Some have passed away and some are still around. My heart breaks each time I hear that one of them has passed on. I remember, like it was yesterday, working with those dogs. They were my heroes.
Many people ask about the health of those dogs. Most of those dogs are doing great. Our team helped to provide veterinarian Dr. Cindy Otto of the University of Pennsylvania information about the dogs we were treating. Dr. Otto then used our information and followed those dogs throughout their lives. She studies their health and looked for any signs of illness that could be related to their work at Ground Zero. Unlike the human rescue workers, who have suffered terrible health conditions following 9/11, the dogs are doing great.
9/11/01…Let Us Never Forget
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