15-year-old Ground Zero Search Dog Up for Hero Award

Bretagne served at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Bretagne served at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Thirteen years on, only a few of the dogs who worked so hard at the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City are still alive. But Bretagne, who served as a search and rescue dog after the devastation, is a living legend.

Late last month, the Golden Retriever celebrated her 15 th birthday — and now she’s up for a Hero Dog Award from the American Humane Association.

“In remembering her first deployment at the World Trade Center, there are images of her going to where she was directed to search the unknown, the chaotic environment. But even then, she knew who needed the comfort of a dog, which firefighter needed to hold her close and stroke her fur,” reads the description of Bretagne on her nomination page. 

She was deployed to the Ground Zero site as part of FEMA's Urban Search and Rescue group Texas Task Force 1 with her handler, Denise Corliss. They were a relief team, arriving 10 days after the tragedy.

After her time at Ground Zero, Bretagne went on to work at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita in 2005.

“Denise is somebody who’s served from the heart — her whole life is about service,” says Dr. Cynthia Otto, who founded the Penn Vet Working Dog Center to train detection dogs. “Bretagne really is the same way.”

The Next Generation

Otto has studied Bretagne’s health and behavior in the years since the 2001 attacks, and she says that at 15, the dog's health is amazing. The only other Ground Zero search and rescue dog Otto knows of who is still alive is Morgan, an English Springer Spaniel who lives in New Jersey.

Bretagne sits with her namesake while the pup was training at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Bretagne sits with her namesake while the pup trains at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center.

Bretagne retired from search and rescue in 2008, but she hasn’t slowed down. She serves as an ambassador for her former field of expertise and is still helping people in other areas. One of the main things she’s done is help children feel comfortable in a reading program in an elementary school.

Bretagne and Morgan both had namesakes in the first class of puppies to train at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, which opened on Sept. 11, 2012. After two years of training, the younger Bretagne recently departed the center to become an alert dog for someone with diabetes.

The senior Bretagne has chosen the Penn Vet WDC as her charity. If she wins the Hero Dog Award, the center will get $5,000 from the American Humane Association in her honor.

You can vote for Bretagne and the other dogs nominated for this recognition once per day through noon Sept. 15 at HeroDogAwards.org. The winner will be announced Sept. 27.

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