four legged heroes who search for survivors
by Nick Mays
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.
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
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
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
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.
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:
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
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.
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,
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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....”