Recommended Reads: ‘Dog Heroes of September 11th’ a stirring account of canine courage
This wonderful book presents profiles in courage for the many search dogs who brought solace to families of 9/11. They were charged with finding loved ones’ remains at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Fresh Kills in Staten Island. Significant and emotional stories about these dogs’ lives and actions, told by their handlers, are captivating. The bond between each dog and his handler is as beautiful as the photographs. A definition of hero is feats of courage, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life. Yes courage, but these dogs would have it no other way.
The dogs performed miracles for words of encouragement, a pat, a game and love. This book is a tribute to their efforts and successes. Unfortunately one book does not contain every dog who served so honorably, but the many depicted here represent them all well.
The handlers’ words are humble. They express how they were deeply touched by the tremendous outpouring of support received from so many people over 9/11. They speak of the cards and posters from schoolchildren, delicious meals prepared by a volunteer chef sent in by the Salvation Army, huge pallets of donated dog food for the dogs and countless hours donated by the veterinarians. They note how so many people showed their appreciation in meaningful ways.
After reading this book, I better understand that service dogs serve because they love it. Also, I’ll have a better appreciation for the many people who have put time, effort and skill into teaching the dog to do a complex job. When these dogs are at work, a switch turns on for them and their handlers to do the job they’re trained for. But during the job, the handlers make the search itself into a game of “hunt” in order to keep the dogs’ morale up and engaged day after day. When the work shift is over, the switch is flipped to love, to play, and to relax as a regular dog. These dogs love the challenge, and the hunt, and the opportunity to serve their handlers, as much as they love their down time.
This book includes a memorial to the heroes of Shanksville Flight 93. The book includes a chapter about Therapy Dogs who provide comfort to people during crisis. These touching stories will warm your heart.
The chapter describing the training given to the Search and Rescue dogs will amaze you at how quickly these smart, enthusiastic animals absorb intricate training and how they deftly apply what they learn. It takes the right dog who is especially excited about the game of “the hunt”, matched with the right handler, and given the right training. I was gratified to hear stories of some of the search and rescue dogs as originally being rescued or abandoned dogs.
The advantage of this 10th anniversary edition is that you are given the “where they are now” chapter. Many of the 9/11 search dogs have passed away, but some are still alive and enjoying retirement or semi-retirement. Although 9/11 was a great, great service to their country, these dogs’ lives include other search and rescue stories that are also gripping.
There is a Chapter on the MWD – Military Working Dog. For America, dogs in the military began with WWI. What Larry Chilcoat says about his military dog during the Vietnam War will give you one example of the bonds established. “After more than 40 years, I still carry a photo of Geisha in my wallet; she changed my life. She was my lifeblood in a jungle nightmare, and we both relied on each other day and night to survive. She heard things I didn’t and let me know. I knew she would die to protect me.”
As America’s response to the 2001 terrorist attacks increased our military fighting presence overseas, the need also increased for canine assistance. The canine as a bomb detector has become the latest tool in the U.S. war on terror, and has been invaluable in the Middle East. It seems that the Labrador retriever is the ideal candidate for the role of IED (Improvised Explosive Device) Detection Specialist.
Volunteer canine handlers incur tremendous expenses to train and maintain these dogs during their careers, and then in retirement. In 2000, Sam Balsam founded a nonprofit 501(c ) (3) organization called Search and Rescue Assist to help SAR volunteers with the training of their dogs. The organization hopes to offset some of the expenses and thereby increase the quality of those dedicated teams.
This book is a precious tribute. We will never forget.
– By Wendy Kendall
Wendy Kendall is a writer, project manager and volunteer at the Edmonds Library. She’s enjoyed living in Edmonds for over 20 years. Follow her via her blog here or on Twitter @wendywrites1.