It’s been just over 13 years since 9/11. Almost a lifetime ago (literally) for Bretagne, one of the last surviving search & rescue dogs who served at Ground Zero.
Denise Corliss and Bretagne at Ground Zero on Sept 11th 2001
In September, Bretagne and her long term handler and owner Denise Corliss (who also served on 9/11 as Bretagne’s handler) returned to Ground Zero for the first time since rescue efforts.
“Seeing this kind of took my breath away a bit, similar to how the pile was the first time I saw it,” Corliss told the Today show.
Corliss brought home Bretagne in 1999 and almost immediately began training her to be a rescue dog. She was already working for a local disaster relief team, and volunteered to play a victim during a test drill years before. The experience gave her a real appreciation for what the victims go through.
In 2000, the two qualified for Texas Task Force 1, which meant that they had received official clearance for national disaster duty.
First day on the job: 9/11
For their first deployment, they were sent to New York to search for survivors. Certainly an intimidating first day. For nearly two weeks, Bretagne worked 12 hour shifts at Ground Zero.
Bretagne after an exhausting shift looking for survivors.
Dr. Cindy Otto is a veterinarian who worked on the scene, caring for the roughly 300 dogs. She told the today show:
“You’d see firefighters sitting there, unanimated, stone-faced, no emotion, and then they’d see a dog and break out into a smile,” She added “Those dogs brought the power of hope. They removed the gloom for just an instant — and that was huge because it was a pretty dismal place to be.”
Denise recalls how Bretagne would console the responders, in one instance she quickly left Corliss and walked up to an emotional firefighter sitting alone. Corliss called Bretagne to come back but she refused and continued moving towards the firefighter and laid her head on his lap.
“The 300 or so dogs who worked the pile brought much more to the job than their capable noses.” Dr Cindy Otto
Since 9/11 was their first job, Corliss and Bretagne were well prepared when they received the call to help with other disaster relief projects such as Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ivan.
She’s retired from her rescue days, but she still visits kids in school and has even had a service dog named after her. The dog was raised at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, launched by Dr. Cindy Otto who names all the dogs after 9/11 rescue dogs.