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The last 9/11 search & rescue dog, euthanized just shy of 17th birthday

Ian Harvey
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It is a day in United States history that will live in infamy. For those who lived through it, they will never forget it. It was a calm Tuesday morning like any other on September 11th, 2001. After two planes were intentionally flown into the World Trade Center, the two towering buildings came crashing to the ground. Around 300 search dogs were brought to the scene to work long hours using their powerful noses in hopes of finding survivors at the tragic scene.

Monday afternoon, the last of those search dogs died just shy of her 17th birthday. She was comforted by her longtime handler and best friend. This smart golden retriever went by the name Bretagne (pronounced “Brittany”). “She had a soft fur and uplifting smile that touched so many during her adventure packed life until her last breath”. The last couple of weeks were sadly the start of her experiencing kidney failure and overall slowing down. After three days of being unable to eat, her owner Denise Corliss knew it was time to make a very sad decision and prepare to say goodbye.

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Corliss was interviewed on monday by TODAY and said, “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.”

Randy and Denise Corliss brought Bretagne to Fairfield Animal Hospital in Cypress, Texas. She  was able to receive a special send off from people appreciative of all her years of service. Sifting through the rubble at Ground Zero in New York after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 was just one of her remarkable contributions. Bretagne and Corliss were also deployed as a search duo after Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Ivan and other disasters.

There were representatives from Texas Task Force 1, the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department and other agencies stood at attention to salute and pay their respects to Bretagne on her way into the veterinary office on Monday afternoon. When she left the facility with an American flag draped over her body, she received one final salute.

Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department Captain David Padovan told TODAY, “This was a very small way for us to pay tribute to a dog who truly has been a hero. Just because she’s a K9 doesn’t make her any less part of our department than any other member.”

From the Fairfield Animal Hospital to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas Bretagne was transported in a formal procession. There is a plan to conduct an autopsy to continue the long running study of search dogs that participated in the 9/11 work.

Dr. Cindy Otto is a veterinarian with the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. She has spent a lot of years tracking the health of these 9/11 dogs. She described Bretagne’s partnership with Denise Corliss as nothing short of magical. They both touched so many lives as a pair throughout their careers during search and rescue missions, but even after retirement.

Bretagne was 9 years old when she retired from formal search work. However, that desire and love of adventure never faded. In fact, the retirement years were also as exciting as her younger years. Corliss was aware that Bretagne needed a tailor made physical and mental stimulation as she got older.

When Bretagne turned 13 she began to experience enough stiffness and joint pain that climbing the stairs at home became too difficult. Corliss responded by installing an above ground pool in the backyard. This allowed the dog to swim for a least ten minutes a day. It made all the difference! Corliss said, “She started doing the stairs again. Then we started focusing on ways to keep her mentally active. … Helping kids with their reading in school (was) great for that.”

Bretagne volunteered as the reading assistance dog at a nearby elementary school until recently. She continued to swim, take daily walks around a pond and chases squirrels and ducks. Once Bretagne turned 15 she received national news coverage when she went back to Ground Zero with Corliss for the first time since the terror attacks in 2001. Tom Brokaw from NBC News interviewed Corliss at the 9/11 Memorial and of course spent time playing with Bretagne. In 2014, she was a finalist for the American Humane Association’s annual Hero Dog Awards.

When she turned 16 she got even more coverage. In August, 2015 Bretagne was given a special birthday honor from BarkPost. It coordinated a “Sweet 16” bash in New York City that involved a lit up billboard in Times Square. They dedicated a much deserved cobblestone in her honor located on the plaza of the 9/11 Memorial.

Furthermore, Bretagne became the protagonist of a non-fiction book about senior dogs in 2015. She even got to meet President George H.W. Bush while visiting the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. In March, 2015 Corliss told TODAY, “She just keeps on going and enjoying life. She’s just such a happy dog.”

On August 25th, Bretagne would have been 17, but just last month, Denise and Randy Corliss lost another one of their dogs. Aid’N was a retired search dog that died of cancer at 11 years old. Currently, the couple has one more working search dog named Taser. Corliss said, “Their personalities are all so different, and I’ve tried hard to capture memories — snapshots — of their personalities. There are just so many little things that I’m really going to miss.”

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News