Rescuing Pets in the New York WTC Disaster

David Dunn, 31, was sleeping in on Tuesday, September. 11. He was awakened by the telephone, and a friend asking if he heard that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Dunn wasn’t groggy for long. He looked out his window and saw smoke blowing toward his window. Dunn lived in Gateway Plaza, a series of residential buildings barely a block away from the WTC.

Dunn felt his building shake when the second plane hit. “At that point, I figured I better take out Faetza,” he says, referring to his 11-year old Rottweiler/German shepherd dog-mix. While his dog did his business in the courtyard, neighbors screamed in horror as they watched people leaping to their death from the WTC. Dunn says he was so close he remembers what some of those people were wearing. He returned to his apartment, and left his dog there. He figured Faetza would be safer and happier indoors. Back out in the courtyard, shell-shocked survivors from the WTC now joined Dunn. Some turned around to watch the fire, others kept on walking in a ‘zombie-like’ state.

Moments later the second Tower imploded. “We had to run for our lives,” says Dunn. “Mothers grabbed their babies, and left the strollers.”

Dunn says it’s lucky Faetza wasn’t with him. “There’s no way my arthritic dog could have run – he wouldn’t be alive today.”

Thousands of civilians were shuttled away from the scene, most by ferry, some to New Jersey, Dunn landed on a pier at the West side of Manhattan. Luckily, he has a friend in the area, who he’s been staying with ever since.

He had no idea what happened to his belongings, but didn’t much care. He just wanted to see Faetza. “I wasn’t too panicked on Wednesday, but by Thursday I was getting frantic,” he says. Faetza, who has kidney problems, required water – he was worried if his dog wasn’t able to drink, he might die.

Finally, after waiting since 1 p.m. on Thursday, nine hours later he was escorted by an officer of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) back into his apartment. He was given five minutes to get his dog, and whatever belongings he can carry.

“I was never so happy to see Faetza,” he says. Luckily, like so many guys, Dunn left the toilet bowl open – so his dog could drink.

Due to his kidney problems, Faetza was trained to use the shower stall to relieve himself. And, amazingly, that’s just what the dog did.

Dunn says, “I did grab my passport and laptop, but other than Faetza, that’s all that I have left.” Although, the building in front of his own was heavily damaged – Dunn’s building appeared to suffer little ill effects. Still, he says that he may not be allowed back for another month. “Having my dog makes me feel so much better,” he says. “He’s more than just a pet.”

Dunn was one of the lucky ones. While some pets were rescued as early as Thursday, most of the pet retrieval didn’t begin until Saturday afternoon, four days after the terrorist attack.

It’s not that the ASPCA and other humane organizations weren’t available, in fact, to the contrary the organizations mobilized with amazing speed. Both ASPCA Care-A-Van and the Suffolk County SPCA were on the scene as early as Wednesday morning, offering care for the search and rescue dogs. However, getting into the thousands of nearby residents proved difficult. Many of these buildings were considered unsafe to enter. Also, government authorities weren’t allowing access to the immediate vicinity of the disaster a crime scene. Another issue proved to be confusion among various humane organizations and the city’s animal control officials, about who has jurisdiction and authority.

Valerie Angeli, director of public information and special projects at the ASPCA says communities all over the country should prepare for emergencies in advance so there’s no ambiguity about specific responsibilities and authority of humane agencies and government animal control organizations.

Some residents weren’t about to wait. Despite endangering themselves and breaking the law, they were so determined to rescue their pets that they managed to sneak into their buildings. At least a few building supers shuttled pets to waiting tenants.

However, by Thursday security was beefed up making it increasingly more difficult for any resident to break through. Investigators and agents at the ASPCA have police power, and residents were only allowed to return to retrieve pets if accompanied by an investigator or agent from the ASPCA. JoAnn Sandano, a special agent for the ASPCA, says there were parts from the airplanes, shoes (presumably worn by victims), and personal effects from offices strewn for blocks. And the police and FBI were perusing the area for evidence.

At least a dozen humane groups from as far away as Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah sent tractor-trailers filled with pet supplies and food. The Animal Planet/American Humane Association Disaster Relief Vehicle ran errands to pet stores – particularly in association with PETsMART charities. They also provided harnesses and leashes to the New York Police K-9 Unit.
Still, the focus remained on rescuing pets. So far, the ASPCA has reunited nearly 300 pets with their people. But not all the stories have a happy ending. In search of two cats, Sandano entered an apartment on Cedar Street that faces the WTC. “The furniture was blown all over, turned on its side – it looked like a bomb went off,” she says. “The cats were gone. Maybe they somehow escaped, but,” she pauses. “I still have hope, but…”

She pauses again, “The cats’ owners said, ‘We’ve lost everything we have, but we’re dealing with that – losing our cats – now, that’s unbearable.”

Sandano says what keeps her going are the success stories. She and an officer from Pennsylvania, who was offering assistance, pretty much had to break into an apartment building because the landlord just wouldn’t show up with the key. “Ash was everywhere – it was hot – hard to breath, and I thought ‘how are we going to find a cat in here?’ At that moment, she looked down and there was kitty offering a soft “meow,” as if it say, “Its about time.”

Angeli says thousands of pets may be orphaned – their owners’ lost in the WTC – however, thousands of residents have already offered to Foster these pets. No additional foster homes are expected to be needed. Because of generous donations, food, toys and booties are also not needed. Instead the ASPCA is accepting cash donations. For further information, contact



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