Ten years after 9/11: the pets who helped survivors


On Sept. 11, 2001, I was living here in New York and heard the sirens outside my window as fire trucks rushed to the burning towers. I felt dumbfounded and numb, and only my cat Toby, purring on my lap, brought me to a place where I could think again and try to help.


Blaze’s firefighter dad, Timmy Haskell, was killed on 9/11.

Toby wasn’t the only pet who provided comfort that day. The Animal Planet series Saved aired a special episode about people whose pets helped them recover from 9/11.

When Maureen’s firefighter sons Timmy and Tommy Haskell died in the Twin Towers, she says only the presence of Timmy’s beloved Dalmatian, Blaze, “made my life worth living again.” (See a clip from their segment above.)

And when 4-year-old Kate witnessed the attacks and became withdrawn and
silent, only her family’s new dog, Scout, helped her get
over her trauma. (After the jump, a clip from Kate’s segment.)

Search-and-rescue dogs and therapy pets
Of course, family pets weren’t the only ones who helped people recover from 9/11. More than 100 therapy pets helped survivors deal with the aftermath of the attacks at the New York City Family Assistance Center. (Read our article about the 9/11 therapy pets here.)

And at least 400 search-and-rescue dogs and their handlers were also doing their part, scouring ground zero for survivors and helping human rescuers cope. “When people saw or touched the dogs, they would relax or have a moment’s hope. It was incredible to see the power those dogs had,” Dr. Cindy M. Otto, director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine told JAVMA News of her time working with the search-and-rescue dogs at the World Trade Center site. (Read some of the other stories of the 9/11 search and rescue dogs on Chicago Now.)

I was lucky and didn’t lose any loved ones on 9/11, but I was overwhelmed by a sense of being unable to help in the months that followed. Still, I’ll never forget how Toby knew I needed him and just how to help.

These days, Wesley, my recently adopted cat, and I are training to become a therapy pet team. I hope to honor Toby’s memory (he passed away earlier this year) and the memory of all the other pets who have provided comfort to people in need.

On Sunday, spare a thought for them as you remember Sept. 11, 2001.

Tell us: Has your pet ever comforted you in a time of need?

Bookmark and Share

More about the animals of September 11:

Petfinder.com: Four-Footed Therapy at the World Trade Center Site

Chicago Now: Never Forget 9-11 and the Search and Rescue Dogs Who Served Our Country

JAVMA News: Honoring the Dogs of 9/11