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The Search and Rescue Dogs of 9/11

On the anniversary of 9/11, we remember and pay tribute to the heroic dogs that risked their lives to find survivors, guide first-responders, and provide support for those left in tragedy's wake.

Search and rescue dog

The aftermath of disasters such as the 9/11 attacks demand swift and coordinated response efforts from a vast variety of rescuers and teams.

In these critical moments, search and rescue dogs prove to be vital assets, offering unique skills that significantly aid in the rescue and recovery processes. Figo explores the fundamental reasons why these dogs are essential during disaster response efforts and pays tribute to a few courageous, unseen heroes.

Exceptional sensory capabilities

Dogs have sensory abilities far surpassing those of humans, which include a remarkable sense of smell capable of detecting the faintest traces of human scent in rubble or collapsed structures.

Their acute hearing also facilitates the location of individuals who may be trapped, often identifying signs that human rescuers might miss.

Agility and versatility

Dogs can swiftly navigate areas that might be inaccessible or highly challenging for humans, thanks to their agility and smaller size.

Their capability to work in confined spaces makes them indispensable members of rescue teams, potentially speeding up the search process and increasing the chances of saving lives.

Psychological support

Beyond their tangible contributions, dogs also offer emotional solace during these testing times.

Their presence can provide comfort and companionship to both the victims and the hardworking rescue teams, helping to mitigate the traumatic and stressful environment that disasters often entail.

Rigorous Training and Discipline

Search and rescue dogs undergo extensive training that prepares them to work efficiently alongside human teams in disaster settings.

This rigorous training regimen ensures they can follow commands accurately and maintain focus, even in high-pressure situations, proving to be reliable and vital members of rescue teams.

Remembering the unseen heroes of 9/11

Hundreds of canine heroes lent their skills, determination, and support to both first responders and survivors of the tragedy. Here are a few of their stories.


Yellow lab with owner on fire engine

A dedicated rescue dog who began her training at just eight weeks old with handler Denise Corliss. After assisting in the rescue missions during Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ivan, she served tirelessly at Ground Zero for 10 days following the 9/11 attacks. Post her retirement at age 9, she continued as a goodwill ambassador and a reading assistance dog in a local school. Bretagne remained the last living 9/11 search and rescue dog until her passing in 2016.


Riley 9/11 dog

Riley, a Golden Retriever, specialized in finding live people amidst the wreckage, tirelessly searching for survivors during the 9/11 tragedy. Although not trained for it, he helped recover several bodies. His handler noted Riley’s uncanny ability to bring comfort and a smile to the faces of the rescue workers, becoming a source of solace amid tragedy.

Coby & Guinness

Coby and Guinness search and rescue dogs

These Labrador retrievers were relentless in their search efforts at the World Trade Center site, working 12-hour shifts for 11 days. They managed to locate the remains of dozens of individuals amidst the rubble, displaying remarkable perseverance and dedication before retiring in Southern California.


Apollo 9/11 dog

The first search and rescue dog to arrive at the site just 15 minutes after the towers collapsed. With his handler Peter Davis, Apollo bravely resumed work even after a narrow escape from flames and falling debris, showcasing unmatched courage and determination.


Riley the golden retriever service dog

Accompanied by handler Kent Olson, Thunder came from Lakewood, Washington to aid in the search operations. This mission marked a significant departure from their usual rescue operations involving avalanches and drownings in Washington, displaying adaptability and commitment to the cause.


Collie named Sage 9/11 hero dog

Starting her career as a FEMA search and rescue dog at just 18 months, Sage's first major mission was at the Pentagon post the 9/11 attacks. She notably located the remains of the terrorist who had flown American Flight 77 into the building, playing a pivotal role in the investigative efforts.


Trackr rescue dog

A German Shepherd handled by Canadian Police officer James Symington, Trakr is credited with finding the last survivor of the World Trade Center attacks, Genelle Guzman-McMillan, after 27 hours under the rubble. Before passing away in 2009, Trakr's DNA was used to produce five clones, continuing his legacy.


Jake black lab 9/11 dog

Found as an injured stray at 10 months old, Jake was nurtured and trained to become a world-class rescue dog by Mary Flood, a member of the Utah Task Force 1. Notable for his efforts post the 9/11 attacks, he also trained other young rescue dogs and served as a therapy dog in later years, showcasing a remarkable journey from a stray to a hero.

Paying Tribute to Canine Heroes

The valor and dedication displayed by the search and rescue dogs of 9/11 have not gone unnoticed. Various initiatives and individuals have sought to honor their memory and contributions in the following ways:

Statues and memorials

Across the nation, several statues and memorials have been erected to commemorate the brave canine units that served during the 9/11 attacks. These statues not only stand as a tribute to the canine heroes but also signify the bond and the relentless efforts made by these dogs in the rescue missions.

Museum painting of yellow lab

In fact, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City has an exhibit that remembers the courageous canine rescuers of the attack.

Ron Burns' artistic tributes

Renowned artist Ron Burns, known for his vibrant portrayal of animals, particularly paid tribute to these canine heroes by painting portraits of many dogs that served during 9/11.

9/11 Ron Burns tribute

Ron Burns' tribute to Hansen the rescue dog

His artwork vividly captures the spirit and essence of each dog, immortalizing their bravery and dedication for generations to admire. Through his art, Burns has managed to create a lasting tribute, encapsulating both the heroic and tender nature of these extraordinary dogs.

A symbol of resilience

In recalling tragic events like 9/11, it is essential to acknowledge the human efforts and the contributions of canine heroes such as Bretagne, Riley, Coby & Guinness, Apollo, Thunder, Sage, Trakr, and Jake.

These remarkable dogs played significant roles during the rescue efforts, showcasing the potential of canine-human partnerships in crises. Their actions not only facilitated physical rescues but also stood as a powerful symbol of resilience and solidarity amidst adversity.

Lizz Caputo is the Manager of Content Strategy at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.

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