The Other Heroes of 9/11

Everyone remembers where and what they were doing as news of the 9/11 attacks broke and were broadcast on every radio and television station around the world. I was in school at the time and still remember my mam driving up to collect me and telling me what had happened. To this day I still find the whole idea of 9/11 really sad and I have so such sympathy for everyone person involved. Almost 3,000 people died in the attacks including extremely brave firefighters, police cops and other service men who went above and beyond their call of duty and completely deserve to be remembered as the heroes that they are and were and always will be.

There are one group of heroes that I feel are somewhat forgotten about and that helped so many people and reunite families .... of course I mean the 100 SAR (Search and Rescue) canines and their brave owners and handlers who scoured Ground Zero for any survivors . They worked so hard alongside the emergency services and members of the public to find anyone trapped alive in the rubble.

Ten years on, just 12 of these canine heroes are still alive, and they have been commemorated and their stories compiled in a book titled 'Retrieved'. The author, Dutch photographer Charlotte Dumas, travelled across 9 nine U.S. states from Texas to Maryland and photographed the 12 remaining dogs, now in their twilight years, at their homes where they still live with their handlers, a full decade on from 9/11.

Charlotte Dumas wanted 'Retrieved' to mark not only the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but also as recognition for some of the first responders and their dogs. "I felt this was a turning point, especially for the dogs, who although are not forgotten, are not as prominent as the human stories involved." I couldn't agree more, I feel that the canines and other animals who helped during the 9/11 aftermath are never heard of and are somewhat forgotten and overlooked. It's such a shame because I'm sure they made such a huge difference to people and their families and brought so much hope in an otherwise hopeless situation.

When asked about the title of the book Charlotte explained "I found the dogs, I retrieved them, they were there to retrieve the victims, it is nicely rounded."

The idea for the book came about after Charlotte had been working on a project involving police and other working dogs and she felt inspired to explore and concentrate on the animals that played a huge part in finding survivors. She went on to contact the NYPD and discovered that out of the nearly 100 dogs who were among the first responders deployed by the FEMA, there were only 15 still alive last year.

Bretagne and his owner Denise Corliss from Texas arrived at the site in New York on September 17, remaining there for 10 days!

"They were there for the first few weeks, they were trained to find people alive, although that is ultimately not what happened." states Charlotte . "I traveled across the United States to meet with the owners and portray the dogs. They are all retired and I spent time with each of their handlers learning about their experiences. It was moving talking to Denise Corliss, who is the handler and owner of Bretagne, one of the Golden Retrievers. She told me a touching story of one fireman who was there in the rubble, and how taken he was with Bretagne who comforted him as he sat down to catch his breath. Years later at a Remembrance Ceremony, the same fireman recognised Bretagne and her handler and they had a touching reunion." It developed that they also provided comfort for the brave firemen and rescue workers of the emergency services.

"The dogs are now old and they will soon pass away. Even during the time it has taken since my first work on the 'Retrieved' portraits to now, three of the final 15 have died," said Charlotte. "These portraits are about how time passes, and how these dogs and their portraits are offering us a way to deal with the things that happened as well as relying on them for comfort."

I really love the idea and inspiration behind this book and am so glad that something is finally being done to pay tribute and say thank you to these animals, even if it isn't a medal or a plaque it is a great start. They are all heroes and I think they are entitled to be remembered as such .These dogs deserve to have peace in their retirement. They look old, but obviously are hugely loved and well looked after. It is surprising just how much love a dog can give, they really aren't called man's best friend for nothing!

I've put more photos and snippets of the dogs' stories on my facebook page so have a look if you are interested in knowing and learning more about them :)

Charlotte's work is also being exhibited at the Julie Saul Gallery NYC opening on September 8th so if you happen to be in the area I would encourage you to go see it. Her book 'Retrieved' is available to buy now from Amazon. More information can be found on her publishers website - The Ice Plant.

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