Last Surviving 9/11 Search and Rescue Dog Given Hero’s Farewell
Some sad news out of Texas this week: Bretagne (pronounced “Brittany”), the last known living 9/11 search and rescue dog, passed away on Monday at the age of 16.
Members of Texas Search and Rescue and the local fire department lined the pathway leading up to Bretagne’s veterinary office, saluting her as she made her final entrance into the clinic on Monday afternoon.
Bretagne’s long-time handler Denise Corliss said she knew the time had come to say goodbye when Bretagne, who had been experiencing kidney failure in recent weeks, had ceased her favourite activity — eating — for three consecutive days.
While heartbreaking, Corliss and members of the search and rescue community are taking the time to commemorate Bretagne’s inspiring life of service.
The pile of rubble at Ground Zero was Corliss and Bretagne’s first search and rescue effort together when Bretagne was just 2-years-old, but it certainly wasn’t their last. Bretagne also helped sniff out survivors following Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Ivan and other disasters.
And while Bretagne officially retired as a search and rescue dog when she was 9, she continued to serve others and remain active until the very end.
When Bretagne began experiencing stiffness and joint pain at 13, Corliss installed an above-ground swimming pool in her backyard, where she helped Bretagne swim and play games for at least 10 minutes a day. The intervention was a resounding success. Prior to using the pool, Bretagne had lost the ability to climb stairs, but was able to gain this back thanks to the low-impact exercise the pool provided.
Corliss also recognized Bretagne’s need to stay mentally active. Until recently, Bretagne volunteered as a reading assistance dog at a local elementary school, helping the children practice reading out loud.
Bretagne also made national headlines in 2014 at the age of 15 when she and Corliss returned to Ground Zero for the first time since 2001, where they were interviewed by NBC News’ Tom Brokaw at the 9/11 Memorial. That same year, Bretagne was a finalist in the American Humane Association’s annual Hero Dog Awards.
Even now, Bretagne is still doing all she can to give back: after departing her veterinarian’s office for the final time on Monday, she was transported via formal procession to Texas A & M University, where she will undergo an autopsy as part of a long-running study of 9/11 search and rescue dogs.
While it’s always devastating to lose a beloved animal, it’s also more than inspiring to look back at Bretagne’s life and all she was able to accomplish and give back in her 16 years here on earth.
It’s pretty safe to say we speak for PetGuide readers everywhere when we say, Bretagne — we salute you.
Christina Peden is a lifelong animal lover and avid wordsmith. She lives in Toronto with her boyfriend Ryan where they are proud pet parents to puppy, Matilda and cat, Oscar. In her spare time, she can be found enjoying Toronto, Canada's all-too-short patio season, taking advantage of the city's numerous parks or curled up with a good book.
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