We gathered this morning under a bright blue sky and a radiant sun. We lined the path that leads from Rainbow Bridge, through the woods, into the valley, and deep into the mountains.
We were all quiet, with our heads bowed. We could hear a drum playing slowly, a fife playing lowly.
They marched past us, together again for the first time, all reunited here at Rainbow Bridge for the 9/11 Rescue Dogs Memorial Walk.
Marching in front was Bretagne. He was the last 9/11 rescue dog to pass over Rainbow Bridge. Now he led the parade.
The attacks of September 11 happened 15 years ago. That is a dog’s life. I have a few friends that old. Petey is 18. Pokey is 15. But most dogs who lived through that horrible day are here, and all those who worked on the pile of rubble are all here too.
There were over 350 dogs who worked at Ground Zero and the Pentagon. They were search and rescue dogs, police dogs, therapy and comfort dogs, from the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Europe, brought in to search for survivors and remains. They were Labs, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Border Collies, Rotties, Spaniels, mixed breeds, and a Doberman.
Among their vast skills, these dogs provided a lift to the exhausted, devastated workers searching for survivors. A pat on their heads, one of them giving a happy smile, or just their presence, gave the workers a much-needed boost.
All these dogs had been trained in specialized disaster response, to detect the odor of humans in distress and the difference between a living dog and a cadaver
The dogs worked 12 to 16-hour shifts. They burned their paws. Their lungs were filled with the toxic smoke (luckily none of them suffered from after effects that so many first responders did. If your congressman has not supported the 9/11 first responders medical bill it might be time to find a new one).
The dogs searched without a break, taught to keep searching until told to stop. A 12-year-old German Shepherd found the bodies of two firefighters. After discovering the cadavers, the GSD laid down and curled into a spot. He stopped eating or interacting with the other dogs. It was his last day of service.
The other dogs continued to search to no avail. They grew more stressed and depressed at failing to fulfill their training. To comfort the dogs, the workers would hold mock finds. One of the factors driving the rescue dogs is the belief that, upon finding a person, they would be played with. During the mock rescue, the human workers played with the dogs to reward them and keep their spirits high.
The site was also staffed by veterinarians and technicians who were trained to provide massages for the working dogs.
Therapy dogs were also brought to Ground Zero and the Pentagon. Rescue workers, while on breaks, petted, played fetch with, or just talked and snuggled with the dogs, giving the men and women a sense of peace and normalcy in a collapsing world. The dogs were trained to sense emotional trauma and to go to those people suffering from it. They provided necessary comfort to those heroes doing tragic and hopeless work. Those who worked on the pile in New York City said the therapy dogs were as important as the rescue dogs.
And that is why we all stand solemnly on this horrible anniversary and pay respect as these dogs walk past us. We shall never forget.
On this Sunday, where summer temperatures still linger, football begins, and the pennant races burn on, we hope the humans take the time to remember what happened 15 years earlier when the nation came together as one and vowed never to forget.