A week after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, golden retriever Bretagne and her handler and owner Denise Corliss arrived at Ground Zero.
Their job was to relieve the first line of dog searchers that had been the initial responders at the scene in New York City.
A week after the tragedy, there was still hope on Corliss’ part, that a survivor would be found.
Now 13 years later, Bretagne and Corliss returned to the scene on the anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Bretagne, now 15, was on her first assignment and the pair had arrived from Cypress, Texas. Corliss said in an interview with Tom Brokaw of Today that being back at Ground Zero was emotional
When I approached the pile for the first time I could just not believe it happened…it’s still difficult it hasn’t gotten easier over the years.”
One of Corliss’ strongest memories of being at Ground Zero was the different role Bretagne played with the other search and rescuers.
She took on the unexpected role of a therapy dog. People would come by and pet her, talk to her and tell them what they were doing there.”
In one instance, Bretagne ignored Corliss’ call for her to remain by her side and made her way to a sullen firefighter and laid her head on the fireman’s lap.
Dr. Cindy Otto, a veterinarian who cared for 9/11 search dogs at the site, told Today that the 300 or so dogs who worked the pile brought much more to the job than their capable noses.
You’d see firefighters sitting there, unanimated, stone-faced, no emotion, and then they’d see a dog and break out into a smile…Those dogs brought the power of hope. They removed the gloom for just an instant — and that was huge because it was a pretty dismal place to be.”
Bretagne retired officially at the age of 9–she’s about 93 years old in human lifespan–but still remains active. Corliss built a pool in her backyard so Bretagne can still maintain her mobility.
And Bretagne still has other duties. She goes to the local school where she helps first graders with special needs read out loud.
Photo credit: Denise Corliss