Dutch, Portuguese Water Dog, at Ground Zero on September 11th, 2001
The first couple of days were tough. There was no one entity in charge................thousands of well-meaning citizens of NYC were lending a hand deep down in the center of Ground Zero. Many wearing only t-shirts and shorts.
As the confusion began to subside, the masses of untrained people wandering about on the pile were moved away, and the bucket brigades formulated, order got established and we were finally able to do some real work. (it'd been sheer torture to have the tools, and the skills and have to standby.) They people of NY had been using lots of dogs on the rubble, and as the uninvited were extracated from the site with their untrained dogs, the workers on the rubble began clamboring for our (FEMA) dogs. The first two days, workers would actually grab at the dogs, or the handler's arm and try to move them toward an area of concern. Once, on the first day, one of the guys in charge on my team allowed Dutch and i to be commandeered. Well, actually only Dutch. They didn't want me, They wanted the dog, and they wanted him down below ground. I allowed them to pull Dutch down thru a hole into a void space and then i had to direct him from the surface to search. That was the first and only time i allowed Dutch to be sent in anywhere without me.
But until conditions were stabilized we were not dispatched. Heavy machinery around the section had to stop. (A crane pulling the wrong piece could cause a deadly avalanche)
Dog booties......fuggedaboudit. Not necessary for the majority of the USAR/FEMA dogs, who have trained precisely on debris such as this. In Dutch's case, my feeling was that anything on his feet would have interrupted his full use of digits on his feet, and his balance would have been compromised......and would have put him in unnecessary risk, (as would having him work on lead.) He was fine choosing and picking his own way, at his own rate of speed. Not a scratch on him.....not one....and he ran within buildings, over broken glass inches deep. He worked on and within the tangled metal, some sharp as razors, some still very warm from the explosion.
Once a central Incident Command was established at the World Trade Center, and control over the site became maintained, there were no dogs working the rubble other than the USAR/FEMA dogs, excepting the occasional police K9. So.........police K9s are predominately Live, and FEMA dogs are predominately Live. Horribly, the rubble was not. Our team saw a lot of action because of Dutch on day shift, and another MOTF dog on nights. Both of these dogs are cross-trained and were two of the very few trained, DMORT tested, cadaver dogs available. And Dutch worked his guts out.
Prior to arrival, my fear was that Dutch would have to work on a field of shards....turns out that was not the case. There was no glass on the rubble. Only dust and metal.
The Twin Towers. 110 floors times two. Plus additional buildings..............and just dust and metal. The buildings' exterior surface, all that the concrete, and glass, office furniture, copy machines, carpeting, and people, all became dust. A foot deep, just a thick layer of dust. When walking anywhere i would move Dutch ahead or lag behind or pick him up and carry him. The clouds of dust from men walking about was really bad for a dog's nose. And health reasons aside, he needed his nose to do his work.
There was some glass inside the buildings still standing. One of Dutch's first missions was to clear the top 21 floors of the WFC Dow Jones/Oppenheimer building. The side facing the Twin Towers, plus the corner sections had had all of the windows blown in. When we cleared these sections, there was a lot of broken glass........tons of glass. Inches deep in places. It was Dutch's job to work all the various rooms on each floor first, while I and my team mates, and Ohio's FEMA team, OH-TF1, and national guard men, all waited at the middle elevator areas. To clear a large room with many open desks, Dutch systematically works most every row, stopping and double checking under any desk which he finds
interesting, like ones where the workers have a second pair of shoes under their desks........and always when he was in the window row i about fainted with angst. I mean, we were 40 or 50 stories high and the windows had all been blown in.....there was no wall, nothing(!).....just Dutch, moving about on this precipice checking for victims. I held my breath and exhaled only after he successfully completed that dangerous open wall. And this happened 21 times! Each and every floor had to be checked for survivors....No one was found alive in this building.
After Dutch cleared a floor, we'd go to the middle elevator area and wait. There i'd would do a quick check of his pads after every big window room, and if he had gone crunching in any of the single offices i might give a quick foot check then too.
Like any good firefighter, Dutch works a building search always to the right. and he goes FAST......now you see him, now you don't. As soon he's finished the floor, everyone else walks the entire floor too, doing a systematic visual search. It usually takes all of them about 2 or 3 times as long. while they search, i look after Dutch. water him, check feet and rest him
in as dust free a place as possible. Then we move onto the next floor. All locked doors get busted and the rooms checked thoroughly.
As we were doing the top half of the building, a second squad worked the lower half. It took appx 3 hrs. to search 21 floors. and we found no one, living or dead.
We were just resting at the 45th floor when we were called to immediately report back to our BOO (base of operations). So we had to rapidly descend 45 flights of stairs......which i feel was harder on Dutch's legs than the climb up ever could have been.......anyhow, we did that. Double-timed back and upon our return were handed some water bottles, and sent over into #3 WFC AMEX and Lehmann Bros (sp?) to clear those 48(ish) floors. This time, our entire shift was released to go, so Dutch and i got to go with ALL our own boys. We arrived only to discover that appx 50 FDNY, two California FEMA teams, Ohio FEMA team and Massachusetts FEMA team were all also in on this one. Annette and Max, her 6 yr/old GSD, is my partner on day shift........and after the briefest of discussions we pulled out of that one. I felt that there was *no way* we could hold ALL of those guys at the doorways, and that they would be all over the place, raising dust clouds which neither one of us wanted our dogs to inhale......so we said to do it without us. There were about 100 people there, they could do this one without the dogs. The dogs would not be able to produce in that environment, and would needlessly be put in harms way. When the guys all returned, they complimented our judgment and our protectiveness of our canine partners.
Our team was totally safety conscious, and took every precaution for our welfare. We travel with our own Hazmat tech, our own physician, our own structural engineer. We don't depend on anyone outside when it comes to our lives. We even have our own veterinarian and cook. There were about four of the men on the team who rotated in as Dutch and my handler. They manage us and although they change with every deployment, the men quickly became very knowledgeable and could "run interference" with the FDNY who had any questions......The three most common questions were: 1. Live or Cadaver? (answer: proficient at both) 2. Has he found anybody? (answer: only deceased so far) 3. What is his alert? (answer: a paw scratch for a hard hit). My guy would also get men to stand still when Dutch worked around them. Which is a very difficult thing......it is a natural reaction for a person to shift out of the way when a dog works up close, to assist and move out of the way, they needed to be reminded as he approached to "stay". (the dust kicked up with any movement was an unnecessary olfactory distraction.) The FDNY would often try to talk with me while Dutch was working, and my guy would step up and do his best to answer questions. My one and only job was to watch Dutch. A nuance, a head tilt, tail drop, stiffening, many subtle body movements were cues. These HAD to be noticed, the spot noticed and marked. Then directions conveyed to the brigade to dig "there". The managers, the dog team handlers of us, remained in radio contact with BOO, and whenever Dutch had a hard alert would GPS it. They would help me harness-up Dutch and me and know how to get us safely lowered down into the deeper voids. The going down was not the challenge that going up onto the pile was. There were huge hunks of metal that were way too high. And/or still too hot. The bucket brigades had already been formed, and we'd lift Dutch to be passed from man up to the next man. In order to save my dog injury, i had to be ever vigilant. Whenever possible i would be both the giver and the recipient, i'd hand off Dutch to a guy, then go around up behind him and be the receiver, then pass to the next and work up around him to receive. But occasionally the way up was way to long to do this, like 20 men high. After watching one FDNY awkwardly handle Dutch's body, i hollered "HEY! Watch his nuts!" That was all it took! From then on, that's all i had to say, and the words went up with the dog, from one FDNY to the next...'watch his nuts'. ha! amazing isn't it?
How we work is that I would work very closely with Dutch.........talking, encouraging, asking him questions, telling him how great he was doing......and after he made a second 'hit' at a spot would mark it with an arrow. I'd tell my guy the degree of interest he had in the spot and would puff some powder to help him help them understand where to begin digging. Sometimes, we'd wait, the men would dig while we rested in a shady spot, then we'd go back in for clarification.
In one hole Dutch indicated two 'hard hit' spots and a second soft hit, or indication. The hard hits were exactly parallel to each other, but each under a beam. i marked both. We finished the area and pulled out, we'd been called to go to a different area of the pile. So my guy, Metro they call him, stayed in there to direct the FDNY. He told me later that night at dinner the rest of the story. The FDNY had dug in the middle of the two beams. The diggers came up out of their hole disillusioned and disappointed....They said they'd gotten all the way down to the pavement and there was nothing there. Metro climbed back down in and said: "but you didn't dig under her arrows! You have to dig right in those two spots." They said: "Why should we, there was nothing there" ........Metro said he was "gonna tell" and that he was going to go up and make a call, and when he got back he wanted to see them working exactly under the arrows......well, they did. And they were able to recover three entire bodies, two FDNY were together at opposite sides under one beam and one civilian, a woman, was exactly parallel, buried under another one. And up under what turned out to be a firetruck, was a foot inside a boot. That night, when the shift ended, the task force leader told me how proud he was of Dutch as he watched those bodies being brought out. Dutch is the only dog i personally know of that has documented, verified, GPS'd entire body finds. Not that there weren't many great dogs there, it's just there were not many intact bodies near ground level. Most were buried deep, and even then, intact only when something like one of those giant beams protected the bodies from the incineration.
The best way to get to a dig site would be to walk up the bucket brigade line. The fellows there, grim and determined would look into my eyes and thank us/wish us luck/tell me he was a great dog. Some of them knew Dutch by name. A couple of times a couple of FDNY guys had their pictures taken with Dutch. He worked on the rubble pile every day. He found the bodies of FDNY and one civilian and many, many body parts.
On one site i recognized the face of one of the FDNY and said to him: "Hi, i know you from another place on this pile." ....and he said: "Yeah, and i know you dog, he found my brother."
Some people have asked me was i afraid, no, hardly at all. The only time i actually felt real fear was a significant occasion. And it made my blood run cold.
Dutch and i were searching the second above-ground floor a building. One FDNY guy stayed near the stairway, and Matt, our manager, the man who held our (my and Dutch's) life in his hands, was following close behind me.
The rest of our squad had split into two groups and were searching two of the below-ground garage floors, which Dutch had already cleared of human (live and remains). Much of that parking lot had been burnt by vehicles igniting, but some areas had cars which remained intact. Dutch had had only one (non-live) indication, at a void space, and the men were working at that void space in the elevator shaft, both from above and below.
Meanwhile, Matt and Dutch and i worked our way upward through the building. It was the creepiest of all the buildings we'd been in. I think it was the Customs Building (?) Anyway, this building had had it's roof collapse in the middle, but the floors were still horizontal and attached to the exterior walls. The collapse was in a manner that the void was a conical shape, and the higher you went, the less floor was remaining. There was always a periphery, more at ground level, almost none up on the top floors. And there was nothing holding the floor together because the span was interrupted, collapsed in the center.
We'd made it up to the second floor above ground, which was office space and proceeded to do a methodical building search, desk by desk, alcove by alcove. To our right were the desks and chairs, some with sweaters over the back of the
chair or comfortable shoes tucked underneath, coffee mugs, pens, paper and computers all looking just as they were left, except for a thick layer of dust and light debris covering everything. It was a sunny day and dusty light filtered in through gaping void in the middle. The world within there was beige, still, quiet and surreal.
At one point along the search, the floor space was very narrow and we had to climb over some office furniture to enter the final remaining corner of that floor.....Matt remained at the other side while Dutch and i worked our wayover the top of the desks and cabinets. Periodically Matt would ask: "How you doin Connie?" and i'd tell him what we were looking at that moment and what percentage we had covered and that nothing had been found. We were appx 2/3 of the way when Matt said in a deal calm, steady voice said: "Connie.....Let's Go."
My blood ran cold. (it does right now just telling you about it) No human has ever moved faster, with more agility than i did at that moment. I felt like Spiderman. Using hands and legs and knowing where each hand or foot would need to be placed two steps ahead of time. (I believe that THIS is how our dogs operate 24/7 by the way). Dutch of course was ahead of me, i'd told him "lets go" and he knew we were exiting and paved the way, followed our exact path in, to get back out. I just followed him.
What had occurred to make Matt nervous was he had felt the floor move. As it turns out, nearby heavy equipment had resumed loading beams, and the impact vibrated the entire partially collapsed structure. We met our guys in the stairway, (them coming up) and we all "beat feet" to the street, with the sound of falling debris reverberating from within the building.
There are so many more things to write, but for now, this is enough. We returned home at the end of our tour of duty, 9/11/2001 - 9/22/2001, only days had passed but we were about a hundred years older.