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2011-09-14 / Columnists


September 11, 2001: It’s been ten years since the horrific attack that stole the lives of thousands of innocent people and changed the world forever. We will never forget those who perished on that fateful day, nor forget those - both alive and passed - who rushed to their aid. Search and Rescue dogs at Ground Zero, preceding many more dogs deployed by the U.S. military, embody the perseverance of man’s best friend and mirror the rewoven fabric of American society.

What became of the Search and Rescue (SAR) dogs that scoured Ground Zero for victims and remnants of closure for their families? At the World Trade Center and Pentagon sites, approximately 100 highly trained SAR dog and handler teams from 18 states deployed by FEMA worked tirelessly alongside firemen and other first responders, sifting through the rubble in a desperate hunt for survivors.

September 11, 2011: Since dogs’ life spans are a microcosm of our own, only 12 of the WTC SAR dogs are alive a decade after the disaster. Some 9/11 veteran dogs later served in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and other catastrophes. In tribute, Dutch photographer Charlotte Dumas tracked down the last 15 dogs to capture images of the noble seniors at their homes, all retired with their original handlers. Her photo collection is on display at the Julie Saul Gallery in Chelsea, NY and will soon be released as a moving book entitled Retrieved, available at the Ice Plant or Amazon. Three dogs passed away before Dumas finished the photo project.

Above, JJ. At right, Fenster. Above, JJ. At right, Fenster. Last Sunday, a group called Finding One Another held a broader canine recognition ceremony at Liberty State Park in New Jersey, right across the water from Ground Zero, honoring working dog teams (civilian, government, law enforcement and military) who in addition to being at the WTC and Pentagon sites, served at Shanksville, PA or the Fresh Kills landfill in every capacity including recovery, security and emotional support (therapy dogs). Treating veterinarians and Suffolk SPCA who provided and manned the on-site mobile animal hospital were commended too.

The Liberty Park event introduced a very special award. Speeches and a procession of dogs and handlers surrounded the first ever presentation of the Sirius Canine Courage Award named for the only working canine known to die in the WTC attack. Bomb sniffing Sirius, a four-year-old yellow Lab was Port Authority Police Officer David Lim’s partner. Together, they searched commercial vehicles entering the Trade Center. Sirius helped clear the way for V.I.P.s like President Clinton and Yasser Arafat.

“You stay there. I will be back for you,” were Lim’s last words to his Lab partner when the first plane hit. He put Sirius in his kennel in the basement of Tower Two, and ran off to evacuate people in Tower One. While carrying a woman down the stairs, Officer Lim became trapped for five hours in an air pocket along with 13 other fortunate fire fighters. During that time, Tower Two collapsed. Sirius’ body was recovered four months later.

At the ceremony, Lt. David W. Lim presented the Sirius Canine Courage Award posthumously to Sgt. Zainah Caye Creamer, U.S. Army, the first female dog handler to die in military action in U.S. history. Sgt. Creamer finished two tours in Iraq. In January, 2011, on her first Afghanistan tour she was killed by insurgent explosives. Jofa, her German Shepherd was unharmed.

Jofa and his current handler Army Sgt. Holley were on stage to accept the Sirius plaque on behalf of Sgt. Creamer. Earlier news reports said that Creamer’s family adopted Jofa. She was from Arkansas but her family lives in the Philippines where she is now buried. The Doberman Pinscher Club of Hawaii paid to fly Sgt. Creamer’s cousins to the east coast to attend Sunday’s memorial.

Next, Lt. Lim presented the Sirius Award to a Rear Admiral to posthumously honor Petty Officer First Class John Douangdara, USN, and his canine partner, Bart, who perished in the attack on the Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan last month. The crash claimed the lives of all 38 aboard the chopper, including 22 Navy SEALs.

Despite some coverage, Bart, a Belgian Malinois, was not the dog who took part in the operation to take down Bin Laden. (That dog’s name is Cairo. His breed remains unverified.) It is reported that PO1 Douangdara of Nebraska was the lead dog handler for an east coast SEAL Team; his work so secretive that even his mother didn’t know he was a Navy SEAL.

Each Sirius recipient made the ultimate sacrifice. Faithful SAR dogs and military canines serve willingly. They leave paw prints of courage, so to speak. While addressing the 2003 National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, Lt. Lim articulated both sorrow and gratitude: “I grieve for many friends I lost that day. I grieve for all those that I didn’t know. I also grieve for the best partner I ever had.”

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631-643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Fenster” #94330 is a young Boxer/Pit who impaled himself on a fence when straying. He received surgery via the shelter. Now his wound is mended but his heart still pines for someone to love. In contrast, “JJ” #94381, a Miniature Poodle. 3 years old, surrendered by someone whose schedule left no time to care for a dog.

Cats: “Dusty”- pure white; “Puddles”- terrific tabby; “Topaz”- orange gem plus many kittens.

Female Dogs: “Sheba”- Husky mix; “Mae”-perfect Pit mix now, began covered with mange, abandoned in a plastic bag; “Mask”-purebred Pekingese; “Mona Lisa”; “Sabrina” Shihtzu/Poodle mix.

Male Dogs: “Reggie” & “Harvey”- tiny Terrier mixes.

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