January 14, 2002
Hundreds of search and rescue (SAR) dogs from SAR units across the country have been used to assist recovery efforts at Ground Zero since the tragic events at the World Trade Center September 11, but a special group of canines have been tirelessly working since the first day of the tragedy.
These smart, tough and loyal animals are from the New York Police Department K-9 Unit, a subunit of the NYPD Emergency Service unit. While the K-9 unit narrowly escaped injury when the towers came down, the NYPD Emergency Service Unit lost 14 officers at the World Trade Center.
The K-9 Unit consists of 30 German Shepherd, cross-trained patrol dogs and three Bloodhounds and 34 officers. The NYPD K-9 Unit has been on call since day one, using their special abilities to locate victims in the millions of tons of rubble that was once the World Trade Center towers.
While the unit needed and welcomed the other great K-9 units and organizations, the NYPD K-9 Unit is currently the only K-9 unit still working the site. They are expected to be there for another four months.
Headed by Lt. Dan Donadio, the NYPD K-9 Unit assists the NYPD in subway patrol, tracking and criminal apprehension, in addition to search and recovery. Lt. Donadio’s job at the WTC site is to supervise and direct the deployment of Police K-9 resources at the site and throughout New York City. The handlers have custody of their dogs 24 hours a day, at home and at work, allowing for a close personal bond between the handler and dog. Formed in 1980, the unit also has responded to other major disasters, including being on the scene of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
Specially trained search and rescue dogs like those from NYPD K-9 locate victims based on their sharp sense of smell. Overcoming noise, distraction, and their own fatigue, these dogs tirelessly climb over and under debris, through shards of steel and glass, looking for survivors and victims. An advanced search and rescue dog can search more than 10,000 square feet of rubble, and a cadaver dog can locate human remains the size of a nail.
The job is both dangerous and challenging, but the dogs work continuously, ignoring cuts and injuries to complete their task. At the World Trade Center site, the dogs from NYPD K-9 have worked alongside their human handlers day and night for months, searching through acres of dangerous rubble, and inhaling potentially dangerous dust and smoke, full of tiny particles of asbestos, plastics and concrete.
According to the National Association of Search and Rescue (NASAR), www.nasar.org requirements for training a SAR dog include trainability, agility, endurance and the ability to get along with other dogs and people. SAR dogs are usually the larger working and sporting breeds, including German Shepherds, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, Giant Schnauzers, and Labradors. It normally takes a year of training at least twice a week before a dog/handler team is mission-ready.