My Pet World: Some of the best 9/11 first responders came on leashes

May 10, 2011|By Steve Dale

In the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, I remember with pride and celebrate those who acted with bravery and heroism searching for victims and their remains following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Like most people, I'll never forget where I was on 9/11. When I realized America had been attacked, my first thought was for my wife, Robin. At that time, she was working in a high-rise building across the street from the Sears Tower in Chicago, a potential target. I was pleading with her to come home when an announcement came over her company's P.A. system directing employees to leave.

Everyone was fleeing downtown Chicago — even people who lived there. I remember what a beautiful day it was, as I walked our dogs the few blocks to the train station to greet her. When we arrived home, we sat and watched TV, horrified and numb. Tears streamed from our eyes. One of our dogs, Lucy, jumped on the sofa and began to whimper. She'd never done that before, and has not done it since.


Robin knew people who worked at the World Trade Center, and had sometimes visited them on business. She found out later that some had died that day.

By the next morning, I thought, "I have to do something."

I contacted FEMA. Thinking back on it, I'm astonished I got through, and more astonished that FEMA took seriously my request to speak to search-and-rescue dog handlers.

I don't recall how I first heard about Chris Christensen, a St. Louis-area police officer. He had arrived on the scene in New York City before most of the FEMA dogs with his search-and-rescue dog, Servus, a Belgian Malinois.

Chris drove through the night from St. Louis.

I caught up with him by phone at the Animal Medical Center not far from the World Trade Center. Servus had been rushed there by ambulance after being injured. Chris was in tears, telling me how he thought he'd lose his beloved friend — a friend who had twice saved his life. Servus not only survived but began to work again at the ruins of the Twin Towers. The story Chris told me was as dramatic as it gets, and was featured in my first column after 9/11.

Soon, FEMA phoned back with cell phone numbers for other dog handlers in New York City and Washington, D.C., at the Pentagon. FEMA told me the handlers generally refused all interviews, but because I was a dog writer, they were eager. Some were familiar with my work.

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