Wednesday, 11 September 2013

9/11 - The Heroic Animals Who Helped

Today was a sad occasion because sadly it was the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America. Across the world people marked this sad 12 year anniversary where almost 3,000 people lost their lives with a minutes silence at 8:46 local time (12:46GMT) when the first plane hit the North Tower, when the second plane hit the South Tower and when each tower fell.

I can remember where I was quite vividly when the attacks happened. I was at home from school (I would have been 11-years-old at the time) and I was in the lounge of our house with my mum and sister. I cannot describe how I felt when I saw the Towers collapsing to the ground, but time seemed to stop. I also cannot imagine how anyone else must have felt at the time, especially those who had relatives in the building, it is simply too horrific to comprehend.

However, this post looks at another aspect about the 9/11 attacks - those animals who bravely risked their lives to help their owners, or simply people they had never met, get out of that terrible situation alive.

One such dog was Roselle. On the day of the attacks, computer sales manager Michael Hingson was at his desk on the 78th floor of the North Tower when the American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the other side of the building, just 18 floors above. The only reason he lived to tell his story was because of his lifesaving guide dog, Roselle.

This wonderful yellow labrador calmly guided her blind owner down 1,463 steps and out of the building. Just as they got out, the South Tower collapsed. However, Roselle was not going to be taken away from her duty. She remained completely focused on the task ahead and as the debris and dust fell, she found a subway station and led them both underground to safety.

Another guide dog who helped rescue his owner that day was Salty. His owner Omar Rivera was on the 71st floor, when all of a sudden he heard a huge noise. The building shook and Salty started running back and forth along the floor. Omar was unsure what to do, but Salty came running up to him and sat next to Omar anxiously. He realised that Salty was trying to communicate with him and that he must find a way to get out.

They made their way to the stairs, which understandably was packed with a lot of very scared people. As they made their way down, it started getting very cramped and there wasn't enough room for Omar and Salty to walk side by side down the stairs. After a while, Omar decided to let Salty free. Salty continued walking down, but then decided he couldn't leave his owner and came back for Omar. Just five minutes after exiting the building, Omar heard it collapse.

"Trust is the most important thing in a relationship with a guide dog. They give everything they have for almost nothing, just for love."

Both Salty and Roselle were awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal on the 5th March, 2002. This was for "remaining loyally at the side of their blind owners, courageously leading them down more than 70 floors of the World Trade Center and to a place of safety following the terrorist attack on New York on 11 September 2001."

Ten thousand emergency workers helped to rescue people trapped in the wreckage and more than 300 of those heroes were dogs. There was a variety of breeds at Ground Zero and all were trained in a different area to help save those trapped under the rubble and debris. What makes these heroes so special is that they were the ones who went where it was impossible for the human workers to go.

After the attacks, a New York Police Department German Shepherd, called Apollo received a medal on behalf of all the search and rescue dogs at the World Trade Center. 

It didn't just end there though. After 9/11, a New York based pet therapy organisation called the Good Dog Foundation stepped in to help. Created by Rachel McPherson, it worked with the families who had lost loved ones in the devastation, those who had lost their jobs and also members of impacted communities. The ASPCA and the Red Cross also helped with the programme. 

The Foundation accompanied those who had lost loved ones to the site where the World Trade Center had once stood. The dogs were so comforting to so many families and in a way, they knew that there was no judgement. They could open up to the dogs in a way they wouldn't be able to open up to members of their family. 
These dogs deserve to be remembered just as much as their heroic handlers and other emergency workers, because they put their own lives on the line to help humans in their hour of need. 

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