The last surviving rescue dog who worked at Ground Zero following the 9/11 terrorist attacks died on Monday.
Bretagne, a 16-year-old golden retriever, was put down at Fairfield Animal Hospital in Cypress, Texas, with her handler Denise Corliss by her side.
As Bretagne entered the hospital she was saluted by representatives of agencies including the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department and Texas Task Force 1, who came to pay their respects.
An American flag was draped over her body after she was euthanised, and officers saluted once again as she was taken away.
Denise told TODAY that Bretagne’s kidneys had started to fail in recent days, and that she realised the time had come to say goodbye when the food-loving retriever refused her meals for three consecutive days.
“She was really anxious last night and she just wanted to be with me,” Corliss said on Monday. “So I laid down with her, right next to her. When she could feel me, she could settle down and go to sleep. I slept with her like that all night.”
Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department Captain David Padovan told TODAY that his team’s attendance was “a very small way for us to pay tribute to a dog who truly has been a hero … Just because she’s a K9 doesn’t make her any less part of our department than any other member.”
Corliss, an electrical engineer, first became interested in the work of disaster search dogs in the late 90s. She took ownership of Bretagne, then an 8-week-old puppy, in 1999, and began training as a volunteer dog/handler team to help support federal emergency response efforts at disaster sites.
“I was so excited about doing this, but I didn’t have the appreciation of how life-changing it would be,” she recalled last month. “It took 20 to 30 hours a week easily to stay on top of training. This is what I did when I wasn’t at work.”
The two of them qualified as members of Texas Task Force 1 in 2000 – and their first deployment was at the World Trade Center site in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Together they spent two weeks working 12-hour shifts at Ground Zero.
In the following years they were deployed to disaster sites including Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ivan, before Bretagne’s retirement from search work at age 9. Bretagne continued to work in her retirement, frequently visiting a local school to help first-graders and children with special needs.
Bretagne was last survivor of around 300 dogs who worked at Ground Zero. Dr. Cindy Otto, a vet who worked with 9/11 search dogs, said: “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.”