updated 21/9/01

The four legged heroes who search for survivors
by Nick Mays


HEROES ALL. These are the words used by many people from President George W Bush to the average TV viewer anywhere in the world, as they watch the Herculean efforts of the rescue teams as they pick their grim way through the wreckage which was once the World Trade Centre, obliterated by a cowardly terrorist attack a week ago.

The area is now called Ground Zero and with good reason. The scene, as many of us have seen on TV screens and in newspapers around the world, is apocalyptic, yet the rescue workers continue their grim work, their faces streaked with grime, their clothes a uniform grey thanks to the ever-present dust cloud.

And amongst these brave men and women of the emergency services and volunteers, are over a hundred four-legged heroes, somewhat unnoticed and unsung amidst the carnage all around. These are dogs, specifically Search and Rescue Dogs, many from New York, the others from all over the United States. Together with their dedicated handlers, these SAR Dogs are working virtually around the clock, with short breaks for rest, play and meals, diving into the smallest of crevices within the twisted, piled rubble, sniffing and scratching, seeking survivors from this, the worst terrorist outrage in history.

Sadly, a week on from the fateful day, Tuesday, September 11th 2001 when two hijacked passenger jets slammed into the once imposing twin towers of the World Trade Centre, reducing them to rubble within two hours, there is little chance of finding any survivors alive. Incredibly, there were survivors, but the last of these was pulled clear from the debris the day after the towers collapsed. Yet still the SAR Dogs work on and will continue to work on, along with other rescue workers, whilst there remains even a glimmer of hope that someone may be found alive.

The SAR Dogs comprise mainly German Shepherds, although their ranks include Belgian Shepherd Malinois, Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Cocker Spaniels, Irish Setters, Boxers, Border Collies, Pointers and crossbreeds. Advocates of Breed Specific legislation should be humbled to learn that there is at least one American Pit Bull Terrier toiling alongside the other breeds, showing as much dedication and tenacity as any of them.

Perhaps the words of Paul Morgan, a SAR Dog handler who is at Ground Zero with his Golden Retriever ‘Cody’ sum up the sheer brutality and hardship that these brave people and dogs are facing every hour, every day:

“My buddy, Hal Wilson, and I went into the pile at 1100 on September 12th with our search dogs, Cody and Sue. You couldn’t believe the teamwork and the silence with hundreds of fire fighters stumbling through the mess. On the way in through rubble, we walked past deserted restaurants with white and checkered table cloths, saw fully stacked bars, wine on tables and menus posted in hallways.......then the full realization of the disaster hit us.

“We linked up with four state police K-9 teams which were the dirtiest, filthiest dog teams we had ever seen, covered with grey dust, mud and torn up clothes. They were pulling out as a fire officer deployed us on to the site. The troopers and their dogs being relieved were absolutely expressionless with that thousand-meter stare.

As Hal and I were escorted to the pile and up on to tons of debris, wrecked police and fire vehicles, hose lines, steel girders, pieces of aluminium, drywall, broken glass and steel rods that reminded me of punji stakes in Vietnam, we stumbled a dozen times. Then a lieutenant brought us to a burned out rig that had been a hose truck from a rescue unit. It was grey and the cab was cleaned out...no seats, steering wheel, dashboard, nothing...

“The lieutenant asked Cody and me to climb down into a pit ten feet deep and search for any signs of life. I called into the back of the hose truck several times but there was no response. Then Cody, my golden retriever, began scratching the earth and whimpering. I told the fire fighters above me, “We have a body down here!”

My dog and I were lifted out of the pit by about a dozen fire fighters and the digging began with pikes and shovels. Minutes later the call came out..’ Body bag!’ An orange body bag was sent into the pit and out came a fire-fighter’s remains. Six firemen with a basket lifted the remains to the top of the pile and then they started stumbling towards the restaurant area and the morgue truck parked outside.

“A battalion chief asked me, ‘How good is your dog?’ I didn’t have to answer, for Cody was scratching into a hole on the hose line. Within thirty seconds he came up with blood on his paws. ‘Body bag!’ was heard again..... and a new team of fire fighters with a basket and an orange roll of plastic asked my dog and me to step aside. We turned away and were directed to another team of fire fighters standing around a steel girder and an enormous slab of concrete which had been a wall just the day before. We were directed into the hole under the steel girder and the slab where a fire fighter had punched a hole into a pile of debris.

“I sniffed into the hole and smelled gas. Then Cody began scratching to my left and I made eye contact with another fire officer directly behind me. I nodded my head and the officer called out for another body bag. But this time I was trapped! I couldn’t get out from under the slab. It was like being caught under a stairway in a dark basement. I didn’t panic but I couldn’t go forward and I couldn’t back out with my boots caught in some other concrete chunks. Then Cody turned me around pulling me to the left. He was gasping for air and desperate to escape from the hole. I held on to his lead and crawled out. Then the firefighters above me pulled me out and lifted Cody to the surface.

“Three bodies recovered in thirty minutes was more than I expected from that dog. But we were exhausted so we climbed up on to the top of the “pile” and waited for another mission. We sat there under steel girders that looked like a giant’s fingers about to claw at us.

“A building nearby began to crumble and the order came to pull out. My helmet was buried in my backpack under three days of rations for Cody. I was too tired to search for it so I just stumbled away looking for my buddy Hal and his dog, Sue. They were searching at another rig buried under the rubble.

“When I got back to the ruins where the restaurants were, two nurses gave me some water and another gave me a glass of orange juice. My buddy, Hal, and his dog, Sue, were right behind me. Hal found a metal tray in a trash pile. The dogs needed an awful lot of water. Then out of nowhere a line of fire fighters with dirty grim faces passed by, each of them pouring out their own water into the metal tray. Another fire fighter gave us two sandwiches and some more water. The dogs consumed every drop of water.... three or four quarts and then the buildings began to crumble again. We were ordered out of the pile. It was now 1430....”


 


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