Honoring the Four-Legged Heroes of 9/11

by The Cowl Editor on September 16, 2021


Honoring the Four-Legged Heroes of 9/11

New York Museum Pays Tribute to the Tragedy’s Unsung Heroes

Claudia Fennell ’24

With the 20th anniversary of 9/11 this month, Americans are reminded of those lost on that horrific day two decades ago. The nation honors the brave first responders, especially firefighters and policemen, who scavenged the ruins for weeks in search of survivors. 

However, there is another group of heroes whose efforts Americans should also commemorate: K-9s. To make sure that the contributions of the search and rescue dogs who responded to 9/11 are not forgotten, one museum is showcasing their courageous efforts. 

In an interview with The New York Times, the handlers of some of these K-9 heroes explained that the dogs were sent to the devastating scene with the purpose of emotional support. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, human search and rescue teams worked 12-hour days for an average of 10 days, and the K-9s offered these brave first responders a great deal of comfort.

One of these dogs was a two-year-old golden retriever named Bretagne (pronounced Brittany). Speaking with the Times, her handler, Denise Corliss, an electrical engineer with Texas Task Force 1, shared a heartwarming story of Bretagne’s service in the aftermath of 9/11. 

While Corliss and Bretagne searched for survivors at Ground Zero, a man approached them and knelt down to pet the dog. He remarked to Corliss that he did not like dogs, which she thought was odd considering he was petting Bretagne. The man then explained that his best friend loved dogs more than anything else in the world. This same best friend was what brought him to Ground Zero that day: he was searching for their remains in the mess of the ruins. 

It is stories like these that Alan Fausel, creative director of the Museum of the Dog, hopes to showcase. An exhibition commissioned by artist Ron Burns titled “9/11 Remembered: Search & Rescue Dogs” will be on display at the American Kennel Club-affiliated museum in New York City to commemorate the service that Bretagne and other dogs performed at Ground Zero. 

For many years, Burns worked as a businessman in Los Angeles. The owner and manager of a marketing and design firm, he felt as though he had yet to find his true passion in life. Burns eventually found it when, upon picking up a paintbrush, he was inspired by the beautiful eyes of his rescue puppy, Rufus, who was sitting next to him. From that day forward, Burns began to paint portraits of Rufus and other dogs he met, eventually gaining notoriety in the art world.

In the process of commissioning “9/11 Remembered: Search & Rescue Dogs,” Burns spent a great deal of time interviewing the K-9 heroes’ handlers across the United States. In doing so, he became deeply enamored with the human-animal connection and has developed a special appreciation for the important work these dogs do. 

Burns authored a short piece that he posted on his website detailing his experience learning about the work of search and rescue dogs. Regarding his efforts with the museum exhibit, he wrote, “through their devotion and unconditional love, these dogs touch the hearts and lives of people every day. I hope I’ve done them justice.” 

The showcase will include life-size replicas of German Shepherds made by the DOGNY project and portraits of K-9s painted by Burns. Pictures from photographer Charlotte Dumas will be on display as well. Dumas photographed the canine heroes on the 10-year anniversary of their service on 9/11, and these photos will be displayed next to photographs of the dogs working on Ground Zero. 

The “9/11 Remembered: Search & Rescue Dogs” exhibit will be on display through the spring of 2022.