To Serve and Protect


We remember hearing the stories of the many search and rescue dogs that worked tirelessly at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, of their bravery and loyalty and their willingness to serve. On June 6, 2016, Bretagne (pronounced Brit-nee) the last known survivor of these incredible dogs, passed away at the age of 16.

Bretagne, at age 2, was a youngster on that fateful day, and her work at Ground Zero was her first search and rescue mission. She and her handler, Denise Corliss, spent ten days searching through the rubble, first for survivors and then for remains. When Bretagne wasn’t searching, she provided comfort to the firefighters and other rescue workers at the site, as someone to hug and with soft fur to pet. It was said at the time that when they were not able to recover any survivors that some of the dogs became depressed. Perhaps then the comfort they received from the other workers benefited them, too.

After 9-11, Bretagne and Denise worked rescue after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ivan. After a full career, she retired from her service at age nine and went on to work as a goodwill ambassador as well as a reading assistant to children and visitor to autistic children. In 2014 Bretagne was a finalist at the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards. In 2015 she visited the Sept. 11 memorial in New York, and you have to wonder, as different as it all looked, did she remember the work she did there? The following year, Bretagne returned to New York and was given a hero’s welcome and a party to celebrate her 16th birthday.

On the day Bretagne made her final walk into the animal hospital outside Houston, Texas, firefighters and search and rescue workers lined the sidewalk to give her a final farewell. Rightfully so, she was carried out in a flag-draped casket.

Nearly 100 loyal search and rescue dogs and their owners worked at Ground Zero in the grueling and horrific days following 9-11. As dogs’ lives are all too short, they have now passed on, but they will never be forgotten for their work and dedication. Denise Corliss said she has worked with other rescue dogs but that Bretagne will always be that one special dog for her.

When we celebrate our nation’s freedom with fireworks this weekend, let’s remember that our pets don’t usually enjoy the noise that goes along with it. Taking dogs to the fireworks isn’t usually a good idea and in fact keeping cats and dogs inside or at least in an enclosed area during the height of the celebrating is best. Many pets become lost during firework season when they try to escape the noise they don’t understand. I’ve had dogs that barked the entire time and others that shook in fear (the same way they reacted during thunderstorms). A product that does help calm extremely nervous dogs is the Thundershirt. Wrapping around the dog, it gives a sense of protection and soothes frazzled nerves; perhaps like swaddling a baby? If your dog trembles in fear during summer storms or fireworks, a Thundershirt might be worth the investment. At our house, FooFoo usually takes a nap and snores during the neighborhood parties. Zombie ignores the whole thing, while Sammie makes a beeline for the basement or hides in a box until it’s all over. However your pets react, please just keep them inside and safe.


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8 Comments on “To Serve and Protect”

  1. marissoule Says:

    Thanks, Lucy, for reminding all of us how the search and rescue dogs have helped in so many disasters. So far my poodle doesn’t seem bothered by loud bangs or fireworks. My ridgeback always wanted to be real close to me. Zuri would have liked to have been on my lap at those times, but holding a 150 pound dog on my lap didn’t work out for either of us.

    • It’s funny how it is often the big dogs that are the most afraid. I took care of a German Shepherd once who was terrified of fireworks and thunder. The Thundershirt helped him immensely.

  2. Patricia Kiyono Says:

    What an inspiring story, Lucy. Since I’m not an animal person I don’t think about the fact that the search dogs would have emotions like depression and fear. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • I’ve seen my own dogs act depressed when they’re missing someone or another dog even. I think we don’t give them credit for having feelings but am sure they do. Thanks for stopping by, Patty.

  3. Diane Burton Says:

    What a great post and a great reminder that all who serve and protect have more than 2 legs. Love the video last week (I think) of the service do that retired and was allowed to live with his former handler. Their reunion at the airport was so heart warming.

  4. You had me reaching for the tissues, Lucy. This was such a moving post about the search and rescue dogs, their courage, and the emotional impact failure has on them. I read it with tears in my eyes. I’m glad you reminded everyone about how pets can react to the loud noises made by fireworks. They terrified our Dickens. We had to keep him indoors and crank up the stereo so the music drowned out the noise.

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