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They stood out like diamonds amid the rubble, the dogs and handlers who rushed into the horrors of Ground Zero, at the Pentagon, and in the Pennsylvania field where United Airlines Flight 93 went down. Their contributions — to rescue, recovery, and raising the spirits of an anguished nation — must never be forgotten. Here are some canine heroes from 9/11 you may not know about.

Appollo, The First Search-and-Rescue Dog to Arrive

NYPD German Shepherd Dog Appollo’s coup—the 2001 ACE Award for Canine Excellence in Law Enforcement—was scheduled to be announced on September 11. Instead, he and his partner, Officer Peter Davis, were called into action. “We got there right after the buildings collapsed. To get to the rubble, we had to go through almost waist-deep water. All of a sudden he disappeared, fell into a hole. Then this big fireball comes up and he comes running out. He was on fire. I brushed off the burning embers and he went right back to searching.”

By age 9, when most police dogs have already retired to their handler’s sofa, the big guy was working the pile. His thick coat singed by red-hot metal, his paws cracked and bruised by acres of jagged concrete, bone-weary from days of double shifts, Appollo plodded through the rubble, searching in vain for the living.

When hope was lost, when Davis had to accept that even his mighty Appollo would not find a survivor, the tenacious shepherd had to be literally pulled from the debris. Whoever coined the phrase “working like a dog” must have known Appollo. It was typical of his doggedness that he clung to life for so long, before death overtook him at age 14.

Some of us from AKC staff were invited to observe K-9 Officer Pete Davis and his grizzled ACE winner search the rubble. To those who were privileged to witness it, Appollo’s work at the World Trade Center site was his defining moment.

Appollo was the first police K-9 to respond at Ground Zero on 9/11. But long before that awful day, police-dog handlers nationwide were already awed by his exploits. One of them was Tom Otten, from Missouri. When informed that his partner, Ordi, was a 2003 ACE winner, Otten told us, “I can’t believe my dog won the same award as a legendary dog like Appollo.” Dan Donadio, commander of the world-class NYPD K-9 unit in 2001, regularly called the burly German Shepherd Dog “my leader of the pack.”

Cara, the Camera-Wearing Beauceron

Mike Forsythe, an engineering manager for a parachute manufacturer, and his Beauceron, Cara, deployed with Florida Task Force 2, arriving at the Trade Center site on September 17.

“The first three days we tested a remote camera system. The issue was how to attach it to the dog. At first, they had this whole sick harness. I said ‘No way! If she gets hung up on a piece of rebar or something that I’ve got a dead dog.’ So then they came back with a Velcro harness that she could pull away from. I said ‘If she gets hung up, then your camera system’s gone.’ I just put her over my shoulders and climb the ladder up the rubble… And I put her inside this little area – to slab areas where all these filing cabinets had fallen over when the building collapsed. She weaved in and out and I hollered commands into her. I could see where she was on a small video screen on my wrist. They had another larger one with a videotape recorder on the ground so all the chiefs and everyone could see what I saw.”

By 2006, Cara did therapy work in nursing homes and started giving classes for the Forestry Service and NASAR (National Association for Search and Rescue) that teach kids how to take care of themselves if they get lost, and how to behave when a SAR dog finds them.

“Cara would roam around and give the kids kisses. Cara loves skydiving. She’s such a daredevil. Our first jump together was in 2000. To date, I’ve done 67 jumps with her. On Saturday August 7, 2004, we did 30,100 feet (setting a world record for the highest human-dog parachute deployment.) Since then. I’ve developed a system for military special forces to be able to jump with dogs. We’ve had several hundred dogs go through this course — close to 1000 jobs — and never a single injury. To me, that’s what’s important.

Morgan, an English Springer Spaniel Cadaver Dog

Katrene Johnson along with her English Springer Spaniel, Morgan, were members of the West Jersey K9 SAR Unit. Johnson has been on many searches, including the most devastating disasters in recent U.S. history, the attacks on the World Trade Towers and Hurricane Katrina.

“After the World Trade Center disaster, Bruce Barton (K-9 units coordinator) called me looking for cadaver dogs for the Fresh Kills site,” she says.

“The Hill was a quarter-mile square and noisy with trucks coming and going, hauling debris. Massive front-end loaders spread it out so we could search through it.”

Morgan’s sensitive nose combed through the gray silt-covered rubble. She had to climb twisted metal shards and jump concrete boulders that had once been buildings as she searched for the scent of people. Meanwhile, investigators looked for anything that could identify victims who had been in the WTC.

“Morgan is an air-scenting dog, and our job was to search for human remains,” Johnson says. “Investigators looked for personal items like watches, wallets, or pictures. One investigator found a half-eaten sandwich… It was tough on everyone and it helped us to. have the dogs there during breaks.”

“The dogs would be resting, sense something, and go to a person,” she says. “Petting the dog, the person would start talking, usually about the dog. It helped.”

In October 2005, FEMA called for SAR dogs to help search for missing persons in Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina, so Morgan and Johnson headed south.

“Counties wanted to account for everyone,” Johnson says. “A 40-foot tidal wave had covered the area, lifting houses 30 feet into the air. We could see where the tops of pine trees were broken as houses had moved over them. Our job was the search the debris area — from where the hous stood, to where parts of it landed — looking for human remains.”

“English Springers make fine SAR dogs because they have a lot of hunting instincts and desire to work with a human being,” she says. “They are moderate-sized dogs with sound conformation and have great noses, biddability, nice structure, and wonderful temperaments.”

The West Jersey Unity is a 24-hour on-call response team.

Sage, a Border Collie Who Went From the Pentagon to Iraq

As a tireless 2-year-old Border Collie, Sage and her equally indefatigable handler, Diane Whetsel, of Roswell, New Mexico, worked the Pentagon attack site. The grim week’s work of finding human remains was Sage’s first but not last high-profile assignment.

In 2005 Whetsel and Sage were in Louisiana, rescuing animals stranded by flooding after hurricanes Rita and Katrina, and they deployed to Iraq in 2007 to search for U.S. soldiers captured or killed by insurgents. Sage is certified at the highest level recognized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a designation held by perhaps only 50 dogs nationwide. “They’re the Navy Seals of search dogs,” Whetsel stated.

Sage then went on to become part of the University of Pennsylvania’s long-term study, funded in part by the AKC Canine Health Foundation, of the dogs who worked the 9/11 sites. The objective was to help to better diagnose and treat illnesses associated with K-9 deployment to toxic areas in the future, and that it might also yield information about health issues in human rescuers.


Once a year the veterinary team at Penn analyzed Sage’s blood work and X-rays. In 2009, says Whetsel, “The radiologist found a tumor down deep between her lungs, and that’s how we found out. I guess you can say 9/11 saved her life.”

Sage was the recipient of the ACE Award for Canine Excellence in the Search and Rescue category in 2009. She passed away three years later in August of 2012. But her legacy lives on through the Sage Foundation, which Whetsel founded to support working K-9s injured in the line of duty.

“She is like a one-in-a-million dog,” Whetsel said. “I will never have one like her again.”

Satchmo, a Stand-Out Giant Schnauzer SAR

Arene Diamante and her Giant Schnauzer, Satchmo, deployed with Florida Task Force 1. “Our first day at Ground Zero was September 20. By then everyone knew it had turned into a recovery mission but nobody wanted to admit it.

“Near the end of the shift, we were preparing to leave when one of the firefighters on our team came up to us. He said they [the New York firefighters] needed a cadaver dog. Two firemen had been in their ladder truck across the street from the towers when the South Tower came down and were buried in the rubble. … We went with Satch. He’s cross-trained. …It took him about 15 minutes and then he gave his cadaver alert, which is to sit and stare at me. I marked the spot with a flag and told everyone.

“Satch caused a lot of attention at Ground Zero because people were used to the Labs and German Shepherds. Everybody thought he was an Irish Wolfhound

“We got home on a Thursday afternoon. Satchmo slept for two days.”

After 9/11 the team continued their SAR work, while working toward AKC titles. Satchno already had his Tracking Dog, Companion Dog, and Novice Agility. “I retired him in November 2002 by letting his [US&R] certification run out. He was an 8-year-old Giant Schnauzer. I didn’t want to put him through the stress of urban search and rescue. He still needed a job- but just not a stressful one.” He got his Versatile Companion Dog (VCD) 1 in 2003. His VCD2 in 2004 and, in 2005, his Tracking dog Excellent, and his Rally Advanced.

“These days he enjoys chasing tennis balls at the beach. He swims almost every day in the pool in my backyard.”

Gunner, a Rottweiler Serving as a Dual SAR & Therapy Dog

John Randall, Choctaw, Oklahoma, is a combat-wounded U.S. Army veteran and a retired propulsion engineer. He has owned and trained Rottweilers since 1977. Shortly after the attacks, he and his SAR-certified Rottweiler Gunner were deployed to New York, arriving on September 17.

“The first time we went through the barricades down to Ground Zero, I was flabbergasted by the magnitude of the devastation. But Gunner took to it great. He knew it was time to go to work. …Gunner- he also worked as a therapy dog- would go through his whole repertoire of tricks for the rescue workers. Everything from high-fiving to sneezing on command. A favorite with the firefighters was when I’d ask him, ‘What do you do in a fire, Gunner?’ and he’d stop, drop, and rollover. They’d all just start laughing.”

Gunner died in 2005 of inflammatory bowel disease. “It happened in the afternoon while sitting in my backyard, leaning up against a tree, having his belly rubbed, surrounded by his doggie brothers and sisters. Looking at me with that big Gunner smile, my gentle giant left this earth. …I was most proud of Gunner for epitomizing what our breed is supposed to be. His dedication to work, his loyalty, and the fact that he could be serious when it was time to work but that he was a comedian when he knew you needed to laugh. … he was my hero”

Louie, the Only SAR Boxer at Ground Zero

Louie, who came from a line of working dogs, was the only Boxer to do Search & Rescue work at the World Trade Center after 9/11. At first, his owner Michele Verdell only intended to do obedience with him, but eventually, he became the first dog she trained for SAR.

“I think Boxer people were very proud of the fact Louie was a Search and Rescue dog during 9/11,” wrote Louie’s breeder, Kate Schoyer. I know I sure was when Michele called me and said she was going to NYC with Louie to help. It was such an emotional time for every one of us in the USA and in every country around the world who felt our pain, too.”

Louie and Michele were honored on the cover of the November/December edition of “Boxer Review.”

Sunny, a Live-Find Doberman Pinscher Turned Cadaver Dog

Shirley Hammond is a retired registered nurse who’s logged close to 30 years in SAR, and 40 years owning and training Doberman Pinschers (as of 2006). She and Doberman Pinscher Sunny deployed with California Task Force 3 out of Menlo Park to New York from September 19 to 30.

“They had me come over to search an area where they had just finished cutting a whole bunch of metal- they were looking for one of their own. Their battalion chief had actually called for a cadaver dog. And when I got there, he said, ‘Is this a cadaver dog?’ and I said, ‘No, this is a live-find dog.’ He was not pleased. So then he said, ‘Well since you’re here, why don’t you run your dog over this area and see what you can find?’ Sunny searched the area and he kept going back to this one spot where the rescue folks had been cutting the metal. I knew he was working scent but I thought that he was working the residual scent from the live workers.

So I called Sunny to come and he started to me- and then he turned around and he went back over to this place and started pawing the ground. Then he turned and looked at me. And this battalion chief said, ‘Well, what’s your dog doing?’ And I just said, ‘I think you need to investigate that spot. He’s not a cadaver dog but he’s telling us there’s something there.’ 

“Then later that day, a couple of us were going to lunch… when one of the firefighters came up and put his hand on my shoulder/ He said, ‘Sunny was right. We got our brother.’”

Sunny died of cancer in November 2003, says Hammond, author of Training the Disaster Search Dog (Dogwise Publishing, 2006). “He had a good life span-11 years- and he was a happy boy. He loved to pull your leg and do funny little things. And he enjoyed training. You’d be driving down the street and you’d see a rubble pile. And he’d start whining, ‘Oh let’s go play, Mom. There might be somebody hiding there for me.’ He loved that game of finding somebody.”

Related article: Guide Dog Roselle Helped Her Blind Partner Escape the World Trade Center
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