Touching Moment With 9/11 Search Dog Riley

Humans are blessed to have wonderful dogs like this in our world.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Riley, a Golden Retriever search-and-rescue dog with FEMA’s Pennsylvania Task Force 1, was secured in a special harness and rode patiently while being hoisted across the 60-foot-deep "pit" at Ground Zero to reach an area of rubble being searched by the PA team.

Among the many who rushed to help soon after the disaster were dog and handler teams from all over the country. In addition to the important work done by the search dogs who worked tirelessly through the rubble, these and other dogs offered vital comfort to many people affected by the tragedy simply by their presence. For the hardworking firemen and police officers, as well as survivors and family members of the lost, to be able to pet a dog’s soft fur and look into a dog's trusting eyes provided immeasurable solace from the reality they were dealing with.

The video below was taken on the morning of September 13, 2001. Listen for the firefighters encouraging Riley with calls of “Good boy!” as the dog travels high across the pit to join his search team. Riley wags his tail happily upon reaching the team, who offer him water and lots of pats. Be sure not to miss how one firefighter gives Riley a heartfelt hug at the end.


Riley was owned and handled by Chris Selfridge, a firefighter with the Johnstown, Pennsylvania IAFF Local 463. After a long, happy life with the Selfridge family, Riley passed away in February 2010, at age 13.

Riley is featured in the book Dog Heroes of September 11th: A Tribute to America’s Search and Rescue Dogs, by Nona Kilgore Bauer, an award-winning dog writer who is the Golden Retriever Club of America’s breed columnist for the AKC Gazette.

About FEMA Search-and-Rescue Dogs

Specially trained dog-and-handler teams are an integral part of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) search and rescue efforts. The government deploys FEMA teams to an area after an official declaration that the site is in a national state of emergency.

To maintain certification as Canine Search Specialists for FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, dogs and handlers must pass a series of rigorous tests every three years.

According to the Search Dog Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in California that trains rescued dogs and partners them with firefighters, there is a severe shortage of Advanced Certified canine search teams in the U.S. There are currently 150 Advanced Certified canine search-and-rescue teams in the country, but many more teams are needed to adequately respond to disasters nationwide. The Search Dog Foundation’s mission is to produce highly trained teams to help meet the critical gap in our country’s emergency response network.

Photo: U.S. Navy Photo by Journalist 1st Class Preston Keres