This is one of our most popular articles. Over 300 dogs and their handlers were committed to a mission of rescuing survivors from the World Trade Centers no matter what the cost.
In the frantic rescue operations at the World Trade Centre disaster site, over 300 dogs and their handlers were committed to a mission of rescuing survivors no matter what the cost. With perils overhead and underfoot, emergency crews learned to operate on instinct and to rely heavily on each other, as all-too-often, the rescuers themselves became the rescued.
This is the story of the brave men and women of the NY Fire Department, the NYPD 13th Precinct, Emergency Medical Teams and the Animal Medical Centre on East 62nd Street, all who converged to save the life of a single downed rescuer.
Servus, a nine year old, 35kg Belgian Malinois with the unlikely nickname Wuss, fell 20 feet down face-first into a pocket of jagged rebar, glass and powdered concrete.
There was not a single person at the pile who didn't recognize the immeasurable worth of a search-and-rescue (SAR) dog. Whenever a new cavity was unearthed beneath the 110 floors of rubble, desperate cries of "Dog over here! Dog over here!" attest to the fact that rescuers trusted nothing less than a canine when it came to locating survivors. So it wasn't surprising to see how dozens of rescuers literally dropped everything to rush to the aid of a dying dog.
Wuss and his partner Chris Christensen, a police officer from Illinois, had been searching in a tunnel beneath the World Trade Centre complex when they heard three loud bangs of a fire-fighter's axe against a steel beam. The signal meant: "Run for your life; another building is about to come down."
But in the narrow enclosure, there was barely enough room to turn around, let alone flee. "There wasn't much we could do but stay where we were and keep searching," says Officer Christensen. "I heard the signal three times. There wasn't much we could do about it."
Something gave way that Thursday morning, and Wuss tumbled to the bottom of a deep pit where he began to go into convulsions. As Officer Christensen clambered down the hole, he thought that Wuss must have broken a leg, but upon reaching him, he saw that his partner was suffocating.
He described the nightmare: "I could see debris was lodged in his nose. I tried to get some out, but I just didn't know what to do.
"He'd inhaled a lot of dust, and he tried to clear it by vomiting, but he couldn't. His tongue was turning purple. He looked up at me, and I thought, 'My dog's in trouble, I need help.'
"I shouted up that my dog was dying. I mean, this dog is my buddy, I wasn't about to let him die down there." Above, the New York fire-fighters leaped into action, and within seconds they were on the scene.
"I saw arms reaching down," says Officer Christensen. "I passed Wuss up the hole. He was trying to breathe, but he was doubled up."
Rescuers rushed Wuss to a fire truck where they tried to administer oxygen to the dog. At the same time, Karimah Tarazi, a registered nurse, shaved Wuss's front leg and started an intravenous, but the dog had gone into shock and was shaking uncontrollably.
Officer Christensen continues, "I put the mask over his nose. Then I put my fingers up his nostrils and started scooping out debris.
"All of a sudden, two people grabbed a stretcher and helped carry my dog down the street. It was the most impressive thing I've seen."
Fire-fighters, NY cops and EMTs flagged down a paramedic and carried Wuss's limp body to the ambulance, but the paramedic refused to help. "Humans only."
"I thought those cops were going to shoot those ambulance drivers," says Officer Christensen. But instead they loaded Wuss into a police cruiser which, along with three police motorcycle escorts with sirens at full blast, headed for an animal hospital three miles away.
At the hospital on East 62nd Street, Wuss was stabilized, although he had sustained some heavy damage from the ordeal and needed some rest.
Returning to the site, Officer Christensen wanted to continue the search efforts by himself. He told Wuss to stay in the police cruiser while he went back into the south tower rubble. But Wuss, eager as ever, jumped out of the car, wagging his tail.
"Get back in the car," the man ordered, but Wuss just wagged his tail harder.
"I couldn't believe it. I told him three times, and he just looked at me... He just sat there. Tears came to my eyes."
The duo went back to searching for about 16 hours into the next day. On Friday night, Wuss inhaled a dangerous amount of debris and started choking again. Officer Christensen, who had driven to New York from East Carondelet, Illinois with Wuss just two days earlier, made the difficult decision to take his dog back home.
"I said that was it," he says. "I wasn't going to lose my dog."
When the two returned to East Carondelet they received a hero's welcome.