The Lesser Talked About Heroes of September 11, 2001 (9/11)

On this episode of “Things I Learned Today,” I’m talking about the lesser known heroes of September 11, 2001, a time of great loss, sadness, and a struggle for composure as a search for survivors would task even the bravest of men, women, and more.

September 11, 2001 is in our memory forever, and hopefully the first responders feel our gratitude amongst the terrible memorize that accompany that day. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, and wives… all part of those who were affected in New York City and the Pentagon that day.

But do you know who else were affected that day? They range from small, medium, and large. Come in shades of black, brown, yellow, and more. They have names like Socks, Riley, and Sunflower’s Summer Stardust. They are our four-legged first responders. The search and rescue dogs of 9/11.

There were over 100 dogs covering 15 different breeds representing multiple states, under both local and federal agencies, that responded to 9-11. As of 2011, only 15 of them are still alive. It’s sad, but dogs just don’t live as long as we do. Despite loads of training, these dogs still feel emotions like we do. They understand their mission, and just as any person with a goal, they strive to achieve it with all of the frustrations that we feel as humans, and that brings me to what I learned today: Some dogs felt really down on themselves during the search, hopelessly searching for survivors, many dogs actually began to stress over the lack of success they were finding.

Rescue workers and handlers took action to make the dogs feel better… by pretending to be in need of rescuing themselves! Much like moving an easter egg so a child can easily find it, rescue workers staged themselves as survivors so the dogs could feel more successful. The main reason the dogs became stressed were the long working hours without the reward of finding live persons. Very rarely are dogs trained under such negative areas with no subject to be found. When handlers call out area clear, the dogs become confused and stressed. They believe they are failing. That they are doing something wrong, and they are worried that it’s their fault.

To further that, the long days without reward would cause the dogs to become less inclined to seek a reward, because they’re unsure it will ever come. The conditioning would wear out. So to make things all better, rescue workers would allow the dogs to find them instead! But that doesn’t mean the dogs were all fine and dandy after that. In fact many dogs had problems getting on with their jobs after 9-11, and were retired.

For example, a then 12-year old German Shepard named Worf located the bodies of two missing firefighters on the first day. Then, overwhelmed, the dog laid down and curled up on the spot. The reports say he began shedding profusely, he stopped eating, and he refused to play with other dogs. The experience basically left him traumatized.

So I’d like to give a quick shout out to all the search and rescue dogs out there, even though they can’t hear me or understand me. Often times we humans forget that you’re not just an advanced sniffer to be used as a tool to find missing people. You’re a real life living thing with a brain and can feel the same feelings we can feel, both physical and mental. I thank you for your service, and hope you all retire soon so that you can enjoy the days you have in your shorter life.

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Charlie Pryor

Charlie is a media producer, writer, and a traveler. He grew up in Michigan, all of his life and attended Grand Valley State University for a B.S. in Film and Video Production. He's married to a wonderful woman named Hang, and simply hopes to one day turn himself into a man that many will remember long after he's gone.

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1 Response

  1. Roseyferg says:

    Just catching up on videos I haven’t seen. Thank you for helping me learn.

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