This past week has been painfully tragic as we have lost some of the most notable people in history, Muhammad Ali being the most notable. In all the commotion, one name was lost. It may be because she was less than a month away from her seventeenth birthday, or her heroics have been over shadowed by the heroics of others, or that she is just a dog; but the passing of Bretagne the golden retriever (pronounced like Brittany) was truly a sad event. She was hardly a household name, but the events that she was a part of will be ingrained in our minds forever. She was a search and rescue dog, and, at two years old, she was given her first task: search for survivors in the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
Over 300 search and rescue dogs were brought to the World Trade Center to help look for survivors. They all had to face the harsh conditions along with their handlers just mere hours after the towers had collapsed. These men and women, along with their dogs, displayed great fortitude to brave the ashy air and twisted piles of steel to survey the gruesome scene. Most of the dogs, including Bretagne, stayed at the wreckage site for hours each day, tirelessly searching without regard for their own health.
Bretagne and her handler, Denise Corliss, also worked many other search and rescue operations. They were there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Ivan, and many other disasters to search for people who were trapped or unconscious. Bretagne and her handler accounted for over 100 lives saved, and this was due in no small part to the brilliant and adventure-loving golden retriever.
One of the many discoveries that was made in the years following 9/11 was the health concerns that the rescuers may have contracted from being in contact with the rubble and debris. Both the people and the animals who were there showed symptoms of asbestos, which was used in the construction of the tower. Bretagne was the last remaining dog that was at the scene. It was incredible that she had such a long life after many others had passed away so soon. Even after her death, she is still serving by giving her body to be autopsied in order to find out more about the lasting health concerns faced by the people who were at Ground Zero
Her owner Denise knew something was wrong when Bretagne wouldn’t eat for three days. When she took her to the doctor, they discovered that her kidney was failing, (a symptom not directly linked to asbestos). Her owner knew that is was time to let her go. After spending the whole night by her side, she took Bretagne to Fairfield Animal Hospital in Cypress, Texas where The Texas Taskforce-1 saluted her as she walked in, and then again as her body was carried out, draped in an American flag. Bretagne was the last of the brave dogs who went fearlessly into the unknown in the hopes of returning with a life that would have been lost, and even though they are gone, they, especially Bretagne, will not be forgotten.