This week, Bretagne, a golden retriever and the last surviving rescue dog to search Ground Zero in the wake of 9/11, returned to the site with her owner Denise Corliss for the first time since the terrorist attacks.
Corliss and her dog first arrived from Texas in 2001, about a week after 9/11. It was the first job for the duo.
Corliss started her rescue career by volunteering to act as a victim during a training drill, lying in rubble and waiting for hours before a dog found her. She told the Daily News, “Even though it was a test situation, I remember feeling so relieved. And I thought, ‘What must this really feel like to someone in a real situation?’ I wanted to give that feeling to other people.”
Corliss and Bretagne first met in 1999; by 2000, they had joined Texas Task Force 1, giving them clearance for national disaster duty.
Approximately 300 dogs joined the search and rescue during 9/11. Corliss stated that the rescue teams rarely got even four hours of sleep, and Bretagne was searching 12 hours every day.
Corliss recalled that the rescue dogs acted as therapy for the rescuers, who were reduced to stoicism by the tragedy until the dogs would approach them. She remembered one incident in which Bretagne ran to a numbed firefighter, and would not return to Corliss, even though she summoned the dog. She joked, “It was like she was flipping me the paw. She went right to that firefighter and laid down next to him and put her head on his lap.”
Corliss and Bretagne later served at Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, and Hurricane Ivan. Bretagne stopped searching six years ago, but Corliss is still going strong, with two new golden retrievers: Aid’N and Taser.
Bretagne now visits Texas elementary schools to help students with special needs. The American Humane Association’s annual Hero Dog Awards ceremony is the duo’s next stop; Bretagne and seven other dogs are competing for the top prize.
Bretagne’s 16th birthday was celebrated in New York by various groups, documented in a video that has garnered over 300,000 hits. A Facebook page titled “The Search and Rescue Dogs of Ground Zero 9/11” was created to celebrate the efforts of the many dogs who helped find survivors.