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.”
This article was originally published in “The ACE Files” column of AKC Family Dog.