After a lifetime of helping others, the last living 9/11 search dog was given a hero's farewell.
When the entire country was brought to its knees and New York City firefighters and police officers desperately searched the rubble around the World Trade Center for survivors, more than 300 search and rescue dogs used their training, natural instincts, and powerful noses to locate trapped survivors of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Those Ground Zero search dogs were an imperative part of the 9/11 rescue efforts, and on June 6, 2016, the last of those brave canines died at the age of 16.
Bretagne (pronounced "Brittany") lost her battle to kidney failure and died with her owner and handler Denise Corliss by her side. Corliss said in an interview with "Today":
"She was really anxious last night and she just wanted to be with me. So I laid down with her, right next to her. When she could feel me, she could settle down and go to sleep. I slept with her like that all night."
Corliss brought Bretagne to the Fairfield Animal Hospital near their Texas home, and she received a send-off worthy of her heroic life. Members of the Texas Task Force 1, Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department, and other agencies gathered in front of the animal hospital to salute Bretagne as she entered and again as she exited with her body draped in an American flag.
Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department Captain David Padovan said,
"This was a very small way for us to pay tribute to a dog who truly has been a hero."
As a Golden Retriever with a strong intellect and an even stronger sense of adventure, Bretagne lived a full life. In addition to assisting the rescue efforts at Ground Zero, she also served during other major disasters including Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, and Hurricane Ivan.
After retiring from search and rescue at age nine, Bretagne never lost her work ethic. She spent her retirement helping elementary school children learn to read as a therapy dog, swimming in her very own backyard pool, and taking long walks around her favorite pond. When Bretagne was 15, she and Corliss returned to Ground Zero for the first time, making national news.
She was a finalist for the American Humane Association's annual Hero Dog Awards, and she was even thrown her own sweet 16 birthday party, complete with birthday cake, by BarkPost that included a personalized billboard in Times Square.
Last year, she met with former President George H.W. Bush and become the star of the non-fiction book, "My Old Dog: Rescued Pets With Remarkable Second Acts."
As part of a study on 9/11 search dogs, Bretegne's body will undergo an autopsy at Texas A&M University. She died only a few months short of her 17th birthday.
Bretagne represents a special breed of 9/11 search canines, and their contribution and hard work will not be forgotten. For the Corliss family, Bretagne's legacy will live on through their other search and rescue dogs, but Bretagne the hero dog will always hold a special place in their hearts, as well as the hearts of Americans everywhere.
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