This 9/11 Rescue Dog Celebrating Her Birthday Like A King Will Make You Feel A Little Less Awful Today — VIDEO
Fourteen years ago, some of the first responders on the scene at the decimated One World Trade center weren't wearing uniforms — they were wearing collars. The 9/11 rescue dogs and their handlers, who spent the next few weeks searching through the rubble for survivors (and later, human remains), were a special class of heroes, although in the subsequent decade they and their human handlers would be all but forgotten. This week, at least one of those heroic canines finally got her day in the sun... and a whole lot of cake to boot.
Bretagne, a 16-year-old Golden Retriever who was one of the many rescue dogs that was deployed to sniff out victims amidst the rubble, and who is the last surviving rescue dog of the bunch, celebrated her birthday this year in the Big Apple, thanks to the staff of the website BarkPost, who flew Bretagne and her owner Denise Corliss of the Texas Task Force in from the Lonestar State to honor their efforts on 9/11.
"Bretagne's story really hit home for BarkPost since we are based in New York," said BarkPost creative producer Laura Hartle in a comment to USA Today on Friday. "To be able to have the chance to thank one of the dogs who helped our city when we needed it most was an unforgettable experience."
In a comment to Bustle on Friday, Hartle elaborated on Bretagne's big day, explaining,
What I found incredibly affecting was when Denise talked about how, not only did these dog serve as search and rescue dogs, they inadvertently acted as therapy dogs to the first responders. It's a testament to the powerful relationship between dogs and humans. ... BarkPost is a collection of people who strive to celebrate that relationship. ... I'm constantly amazed by how often a dog's actions can make you want to be a better human. Search and rescue dogs definitely teach a lesson of selfless service.
Bretagne was unbelievably adorable throughout her big day ... She may have been turning 16, but when it came to [her birthday celebrations] she acted like a young pup!
For the big bash, Bretagne was gifted with a luxury suite at 1 Hotel Central Park, a stretch limo from Film Cars, and even got to see her name in lights, thanks to the Roundabout Theatre Company who sponsored a massive billboard featuring her image. The sweet-tempered Retriever even got a gourmet burger from the hotel's Jams Restaurant and a giant birthday cake from the folks at Bubba Rose Biscuit Company and District Dog. The best treat of the day? A cobblestone in her name, placed at the corner of the 9/11 memorial, where Bretagne and her handler worked for days in 2001, digging through broken concrete blocks and mounds of broken glass.
"When our task force arrived in Ground Zero, I just couldn't believe the magnitude," Corliss recalled to New York ABC affiliate WABC on Thursday. "And I looked down at her, and she seemed stoic and ready to work."
Bretagne wasn't the only pup to put in incredible amounts of work throughout the grisly weeks of retrieving survivors and bodies from the rubble left at Ground Zero; for many of the 900 9/11 rescue dogs, the work was exhausting both physically and emotionally. White hot concrete and slabs of twisted metal often scorched their paws and at some point, the continual burden of finding non-living victims became so depressing that emergency workers would often hide in the rubble so that the dogs had the chance to find someone still living.
According to one rescue worker, his canine companion became overwhelmed after finding the bodies of two missing firefighters on the duo's first day at Ground Zero. The rescue worker later recounted in an interview for the 2006 book Dog Heroes of September 11th: A Tribute to America's Search and Rescue Dogs, that the rescue pup had laid down on the spot and refused to interact with the other dogs. The emergency worker added that some of the rescue animals began losing weight and shedding hair in the weeks that followed the traumatizing work.
For all their sacrifices, however, there was a silver lining: The 9/11 rescue dogs that worked tirelessly alongside their human companions to search out both the living and the dead have since been memorialized as heroes.
"September eleven is really personal to me [because] the dogs were so powerful," recalled Cindy Otto, a veterinarian who worked at the scene to care for the exhausted rescue animals in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, in an interview with DogTime in 2014. Otto added that, because of her experience at Ground Zero, she was able to establish the Penn Vet Working Dog center in 2007, which works toward bettering the careers and lives of all rescue dogs. "[The center] was truly inspired by those dogs [at Ground Zero]," she said.
For Bretagne, her days of searching and rescuing are long over, but that doesn't mean she can't still enjoy celebrations in her honor.
"[Bretagne] represents working dogs and the disaster dogs in particular," Corliss told WABC reporters on Thursday. "They all are deserving for a day like today."