12 hero dogs of 9/11 who risked their lives to save survivors | TeamDogs

12 hero dogs of 9/11 who risked their lives to save survivors

Including guide dogs who led their owners and colleagues down 70 floors to safety

Bethan Shufflebotham

Posted 10d ago

Bretagne and her handler (Image: Denise Corliss)

As the World Trade Centre collapsed, search dogs and their handlers from around the US scrambled to the scene to do what they could to help.

Around 300 teams assembled to save survivors of 9/11 trapped in the rubble at Ground Zero.

But only 100 of them were prepared for the sheer scale of the disaster in which nearly three thousand people lost their lives.

There are dozens of stories of people’s brave efforts to rescue workers from the twin towers on September 11, 2001 - but that very day saw a number of heroic hounds guide people to safety, and comfort those who lost loved ones.

Dogs were working 12-hour shifts, with vets stationed at Ground Zero to keep the dogs healthy and hydrated, cleaning their eyes, nose and paw pads.

These courageous animals risked their lives to find survivors, and locate jewellery that could be returned to the victim's families. 

The Dogington Post has paid tribute to the dogs, which have all since passed away, but their legacy lives on.

From guide dogs who rescued workers from the 71st floor, to the dog that found the last remaining survivor from the rubble.

Twenty years on, here are 12 hero dogs who assisted at Ground Zero:


Michael Hingson gets a lick from his guide dog, Roselle ( Image: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Roselle was sleeping under her owner, Michael Hingson’s, desk when a plane hit the first tower 15 floors above them.

The three-year-old was Michael’s fifth guide dog, and helped her owner escape the building through smoke and crumbling debris via staircase B.

She led her owner and 30 other people down 1,463 steps from the 78th floor out of the tower, which took over an hour. As they left the building, Tower 2 collapsed.

Hingson later said, "While everyone ran in panic, Roselle remained totally focused on her job, while debris fell around us, and even hit us, Roselle stayed calm."

The brave dog then led her owner to the safety of a subway station, where they helped a woman who had been blinded by falling debris. 

Read more: You need to know about these hero dogs 


Another guide dog, Salty, was on the 71st floor with his owner, Omar Rivera, when the hijacked plane hit the World Trade Centre.

Rivera recalled how they tried escaping down the nearest flight of stairs, but it was filled with smoke and became very hot and he thought it was too much for Salty so let go of his harness so the dog could head down alone.

Omar said: "I tried to let him go down first for a few minutes, but he said, ‘No' 

“He refused to leave me. He came back to me. He said, "We are together. As long as we are in here, we are together.'”

Both Salty and Roselle were awarded a joint Dickin Medan six months after the disaster. 

Their medal reads: “For remaining loyally at the side of their blind owners, courageously leading them down more than 70 floors of the World Trade Center and to a place of safety following the terrorist attack on New York on September 11, 2001.”


A NY-NJ Port Authority Police Officer salutes near a painting of Sirius, a K9 dog killed during the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center, during a memorial service at Liberty State Park April 24, 2002 in Jersey City ( Image: Don Murray/Getty Images)

Explosive detection dog Sirius was the only police dog to die in the 9/11 attack.

The K9 employee was working with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department with his handler David Lim.

The duo were in the south tower when the north tower was hit, violently shaking the ground. 

Lim secured his partner in his kennel before investigating, reportedly telling his dog ‘I’ll be back for you’.

He went on to rescue injured civilians, surviving the collapse of the north tower - but as he was rushed into an ambulance, the south tower came crumbling down on top of Sirius, who was in the basement.

His remains were recovered over a year later in winter 2002, and his training leash and badge is housed in the 9/11 memorial museum in New York.


Pronounced Britnee, this golden retriever was just two years old when she found herself on her first assignment - searching for Ground Zero survivors.

Her trainer, Denise Corliss, was a volunteer firefighter with the Cy-Fair Fire Department, and had been training Bretagne since the pup was eight weeks old.

They worked on the scene for 10 days, later going on to assist in rescue efforts after  Hurricanes Rita, Katrina and Ivan.

Bretagne retired at the age of nine, becoming a reading dog at a local school helping children become more confident in reading.

She passed away in 2016, just shy of 17 years old, with kidney failure - and was believed to be the last surviving dog from the terror attack.

The retriever was given a hero’s farewell, draped in an American flag as firefighters and search and rescue workers lined the streets to salute her.

Read more: How Pen Farthing brought soldier's dog back to his parents 


Golden retriever Riley arrived at Ground Zero tasked with locating the living, but ended up recovering the bodies of those who lost their lives.

His search partner and owner reportedly said: “Riley knew the people he continued to find were dead. He was never a formally trained cadaver dog. His job was to find the still living. 

“I tried my best to tell Riley he was doing his job. He had no way to know that when firefighters and police officers came over to hug him, and for a split second you can see them crack a smile – that Riley was succeeding at doing an altogether different job. He provided comfort. Or maybe he did know.”

Coby and Guinness

Between them, Coby and Guinness worked for 264 hours, working 12-hour shifts over 11 days to locate the remains of dozens of people within the rubble.

The two labradors searched tirelessly through the debris of the collapsed buildings, on a search and rescue mission far larger than anything they’d trained for.

The dogs were rewarded for their efforts with ‘a nap or a chew toy’, before returning home to Southern California to retire with their handler.


Apollo was awarded a Dickin Medal on behalf of the search and rescue dogs who assisted in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Centre.

The German shepherd joined handler, Peter Davis, on the job 15 minutes after the attack - making him the first search and rescue dog on the scene.

At one point, Apollo - who was nine - was almost killed by flames and falling debris, but survived thanks to having fallen in a pool of water shortly before, saturating his fur.

His Dickin Medal read: “For tireless courage in the service of humanity during the search and rescue operations in New York and Washington on and after 11 September 2001. 

“Faithful to words of command and undaunted by the task, the dogs' work and unstinting devotion to duty stand as a testament to those lost or injured.”


Kent Olson and his dog, Thunder, from Lakewood, Washington search through the rubble for victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Cente ( Image: Andrea Booher/FEMA/Getty Images)

Kent Olson traveled from Washington with his dog, Thunder, to search for victims of the terrorist attack.

Typically Thunder would search for victims and survivors of avalanches and possible drownings - but this challenge was much bigger than anything he’d worked on before.

Read more: Hero police dog retires after a career protecting the Royal Family


At just 18 months old, Sage became a FEMA search and rescue dog. Her very first mission on September 11, 2001, searching the Pentagon following the attacks.

Sage sniffed out the body of the terrorist who had flown American Flight 77 into the building.

The collie was later deployed to Iraq, in 2007, to search for U.S. soldiers captured or killed by terror groups.


German shepherd Trakr with owner James Symington in Los Angeles, California. ( Image: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)

This brave German shepherd located the last survivor of the incident, 27 hours after the buildings had been hit.

The south tower had collapsed around Genelle Guzman-McMillan, and Trakr was able to detect the Port Authority of New York worker, alerting firefighters to her location.

She had been on the 13th floor when the building crashed down on top of her, but she was found alive on the morning of September 12.

Two days later, Trakr collapsed from chemical and smoke inhalation, burns, and exhaustion, and was treated by vets at the scene before returning home to Canada.

Trakr passed away in April 2009, but not before his DNA was entered into a cloning contest by his handler. In June 2009, five cloned Trakr puppies were born.


At 10 months old, Jake was found roaming the streets as a stray with a broken leg and dislocated hip.

He was taken in by Utah Task Force 1 worker, Mary Flood, who cared for the dog before training him in search and rescue.

During the 9/11 attack, Jake worked relentlessly for 17 days searching for victims.

The black lab went on to train young rescue dogs and their handlers, and worked as a therapy dog at Utah nursing homes and at a camp for burn victims.

Jake died from blood cancer in 2007 at the age of 12.

Hundreds of paws risked their lives in New York city on September 11, 2001, to save survivors, comfort victims, and bring closure to those who lost loved ones. 

These four-legged heroes did an unbelievable job, and their bravery will never be forgotten.

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