Within hours of the 9/11 attacks, thousands of rescue workers from across America deployed to Ground Zero to help. Joining the endeavor were an estimated 300 specially trained dogs with experience not only in search and rescue, but police work, therapy, and comfort provision.
Search and rescue dogs (SAR) specialize in disaster response skills. Trained to detect the scent of living humans, their mission was to find survivors buried in the rubble. One of the dogs found the last living person rescued from Ground Zero, 27 hours after the collapse of the towers. As the days went on, rescue and recovery workers realized the chance of finding survivors was increasingly slim, and the operation turned its focus to recovery. Cadaver dogs, trained to find human remains, were also on the scene.
Alongside their handlers, the four-legged heroes worked tirelessly climbing huge piles of debris while fires still smoldered. The search for signs of life or human remains was mentally and physically taxing on the dogs, who became discouraged and started losing their drive to continue. Recognizing the importance of motivation among the dogs, handlers would stage "mock finds" so the animals could feel successful.
Veterinarians were stationed at the site to help care for these dogs. Working 12-hour shifts on the pile, the dogs needed to have their paw pads, eyes, and nose cleaned often. Cynthia Otto, director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, and Lisa Murphy, an associate professor of toxicology and director of the Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostic Laboratory System at the School of Veterinary Medicine's New Bolton Center, were both on the ground supporting these dogs.